ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2006 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 52, No 4 - Winter 2006
Editor of this issue: Violeta Kelertas

The Liberation of the Königsberg/Kaliningrad Region and the
NorthernTerritories/Southern Kuril Islands
in Comparative Perspective

Darius Furmanavičius

Darius Furmonavičius, MA in International Relations (University of Nottingham, 1996), PhD in European Studies (University of Bradford, 2002), is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Bradford. He is currently working on a monograph Lithuania Rejoins Europe (forthcoming by Columbia University Press).

Both the Königsberg region and the Japanese Northern Territories are still occupied by Russian military forces, representing the major unresolved territorial questions of Soviet expansion during World War II. Stalin regarded the question of the Soviet Union’s western frontiers in Europe as “the main question for us in the war.” 1 His expansionist ambitions, in fact, reached across the world to include Japan.

U.S. Secretary of State James Francis Byrnes, in his memoirs Speaking Frankly, tried to answer the question “What are the Russians after?” 

Despite the violence of the Russian revolution, the aims of Bolshevik diplomacy differ very little from those of the tsars. And the aims that Stalin and Molotov have pursued since the end of the war vary little from the demands they made of Adolf Hitler. 

In 1939 the Soviet Union embarked upon an active policy of expansion. Between December 4, 1939, and the end of 1945, the Soviet Union took control of the territories of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bessarabia, south Sakhalin and the Kuriles, parts of Finland and of Poland, the Königsberg area in East Prussia, the Transcarpathian Ukraine, and Tannu Tuva. It also took over Port Arthur, where, although it did not acquire sovereignty, it did acquire the right to maintain a naval base jointly with China for thirty years. In all, nearly 300,000 square miles of territory have been acquired since 1939, bringing the area of the Soviet Union to 8,455,939 square miles, only slightly less than the greatest extent of tsarist Russia. 

It is clear, then, that expansionism is not an innovation of the Communist regime. It is rooted in Russian history. Only the personalities and the tactics have changed. 

If the occupation of the Kurile islands (Shumushu, Maisuwa, Uruppu) from August 18 to August 31, 1945 and the Northern Territories of Japan (Etorofu – 3,184.0 km², Kunashiri – 1,498.8 km², Shikotan – 253.3 km² and Habomai – 99.9 km², for a total of 5,036.0 km²) from August 28 to September 5, 1945, did not meet Japanese military resistance and by 1949 all of the approximately 17,000 Japanese residents of the islands were forcibly deported to Soviet concentration camps, the people of East Prussia suffered even more intense terror. Indeed, after the Soviet army entered the Königsberg region (the present area of the Kaliningrad region – 15,100 km²) in October 1944, the inhabitants experienced mass murder at the hands of the Communists. Almost all of the two million German and the Lithuanian inhabitants were killed or deported to Soviet concentration camps in Siberia. After a few survivors were expelled westwards, the total ethnic cleansing of this European territory by the Soviets was complete. 

The Northern Territories and the Königsberg Region in the Second World War Conferences 

If Japan continues to treat the Northern Territories as “an integral part of Japan’s sovereign territory that continues to be illegally occupied by Russia,” neither Germany nor any other European state, except Lithuania, have expressed a territorial claim to the Königsberg area. Stasys Lozoraitis, Jr., the Lithuanian Ambassador in Washington, D.C., stated in 1992 that the area should belong to Lithuania in the future (“not tomorrow or not the day after tomorrow” but in the future).1 The Yalta Conference in February, 1945 stipulated: “the Kurile islands shall be handed over to the Soviet Union.” President Harry Truman agreed with the transfer of the Kurile Islands to the Soviet Union in his letter to Stalin in 1945, but the United States has also consistently supported the Japanese position in respect to its Northern Territories.2 Under the Treaty of Commerce, Navigation and Delimitation between Japan and Russia (The Shimoda Treaty of 1855), the state boundary between the islands of Etorofu and Urrupu was peacefully established, dividing the Kurile Islands and the Northern Territories. The Soviets refused to sign the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951, under which this line was defined as the border between the two states.

  Map 1: The Shimoda Treaty of 1855: “Henceforth the boundary between the two nations shall lie between the islands of Etorofu and Uruppu.” From region/europe/ russia/territory/ pamphlet.pdf


In a similar way, the Soviets also refused to discuss the final peace settlement in Europe after the Second World War. It is important to emphasize that neither the United States nor Britain agreed at Potsdam or anywhere else to the transfer of East Prussia or part of the Königsberg Region to the Soviet Union. Thus, although the Kaliningrad Region is currently administered by Russia, it is not a legal part of Russia. 3

Stalin was seeking a deal on East Prussia at the Tehran conference in 1943, drawing a line in red pencil on the map “to illustrate the fact that, if part of eastern Prussia, including the ports of Könisberg and Tilsit, were given to the Soviet Union, he would be prepared to accept the Curzon line [...] as the frontier between the Soviet Union and Poland.” 4 This line goes roughly along the current border between the Kaliningrad Region and Poland, but Stalin’s red line on the map went virtually through the cities of Königsberg and Insterburg5 (see Map 2). Charles E. Bolen, the interpreter for the American delegation, says in his memoirs that during their discussion, Stalin and Churchill virtually agreed on the future borders of Poland, but the official American record of the conversation says that “although nothing was stated, it was apparent that the British were going to take this suggestion back to London to the Poles.” 6 On February 11, 1945, at the Crimea (Yalta) Conference, the Big Three agreed on the Curzon Line as the boundary between Poland and the USSR.7 However, the archival material clearly shows that there had not been any legally binding agreement made between the allies about the transfer of the Königsberg Region to the Soviet Union at any of the Second World War conferences.8 This is why Stalin attempted to secure his gains at the Potsdam conference in Berlin, which took place from July 17 to August 2, 1945. 

  Map 2: The Red Line (which appears here in gray) drawn by Stalin himself at the Teheran conference of 1943 which is not yet erased from the map of Europe.11

“At plenary session on July 22nd Marshal Stalin circulated a draft paper […] seeking the approval of the Conference for a proposal that, pending the final settlement of territorial questions at the Peace Congress, the boundary of the U.S.S.R. should embrace the northern half of East Prussia including Konigsberg.” 9 The Soviet delegation presented the following draft of the document entitled “On shaping the decision of the Three Heads of Government regarding the transfer to the Soviet Union of the Koenigsberg area”: 

The Conference approved the proposal of the Soviet Union that, pending the final settlement of territorial questions at the Peace Congress, the part of the western border of U.S.S.R. adjoining the Baltic Sea should follow the line from the point on the eastern shore of the Danzig Bay indicated on the map, annexed hereto, eastward - north of Braunsberg - Goldap to the junction of the frontiers of the Lithuanian S.S.R., the Polish Republic and the former East Prussia.10 

The British preparatory material for the Potsdam conference clearly states that “the Soviet draft is not acceptable in its present form” because it would commit His Majesty’s Government to: 

admitting that the Königsberg area is not under the authority of the Allied Control Council in Germany;
admitting that East Prussia no longer exists;
recognizing the incorporation of Lithuania into the U.S.S.R. as the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic.12

“It would seem preferable that we should not ourselves propose a redraft at this stage, but should first see whether the Russians cannot be persuaded to withdraw their proposal,” stated the British Foreign Office document entitled “Königsberg.” 13 However, the British protocol of July 24th reports that: 

At plenary session on July 23rd Prime Minister explained that Soviet Delegation’s draft would in effect require His Majesty’s Government to recognise (a) that East Prussia no longer existed and that this area had been withdrawn from the authority of the Control Council in Germany, and (b) the incorporation of Lithuania in the U.S.S.R. On the other hand he had already made it clear that His Majesty’s Government were in full sympathy with this Soviet claim. President Truman stated that the United States Government likewise saw no objection in principle to this part of Germany being transferred to the Soviet Union in due course. It was agreed that the Conference should record understanding that His Majesty’s Government and the United States Government would support the Soviet claim at the peace settlement.“14

However, the Soviet delegation agreed to comply with the demand of the British and American delegations not to incorporate the territory of the region nor mark the western borders of the USSR in advance of the peace settlement. The protocol of the British delegation states: 

M. MOLOTOV said that on the substance of this question there was no misunderstanding between the three Delegations. The Soviet Delegation fully accepted the position that there could be no actual transfer of territory in advance of the peace settlement and, further, that the actual frontier could not be delimited in detail without expert examination on the spot.15 

The protocol of the American delegation also confirms the agreement by saying: 

MR. BYRNES pointed out that the President had taken a position on all discussions such as this that it must be understood that the cession of territory would have to be left until the peace settlement. MR. MOLOTOV stated that everyone agreed to this.16 

It is important to emphasize that the Soviets agreed at Potsdam that their western borders would be subject to negotiation at the peace settlement with the Allies. However, the Soviets broke the Potsdam agreement and incorporated Königsberg and the adjacent area into the Soviet Union on the 10th of September 1946 in advance of a peace settlement, because Stalin refused to negotiate a withdrawal from Europe and elsewhere. 

A Soviet nuclear military base within the European Union 

Unfortunately, the Russians still fail to understand that the withdrawal of their remaining military troops from Europe and from Japan would not reduce their prestige but, on the contrary, would improve their ‘face’ and their relations with the West. If half the military forces were withdrawn from the occupied Northern Territories during President Yeltsin’s period, as they were reduced in the occupied Königsberg Region, the tactical nuclear weapons were redeployed in the region at the beginning of the Putin presidency in 2002, and further withdrawal of Soviet military hardware was postponed for an undefined future. Currently, the Kaliningrad Region remains an impoverished territory that is the primary source of illegal drugs in the Baltic States and elsewhere in Europe; and it has the most severe AIDS problem in the continental region. The United States House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution in 1996, asking Russia to withdraw its military forces from the Kaliningrad region. Also, despite the EU “Special programme for the Kaliningrad Oblast” and the budget line B7-520 of 392 million euros for 2004-2006, excessive militarization continues and numerous military exercises, such as Baltica- 2005, also take place.17 There are constant and deliberate violations of Baltic and Finnish airspace by Russian spy-planes and other military planes flying in and out of the Kaliningrad Region, one of which, an SU-27, crashed in Lithuania in 2005, carrying four air-to-air missiles and at least two kilograms of radioactive Uranium-238.18

During the celebration of the 750th anniversary of Königsberg in July 2005, at the ceremonies renaming Kaliningrad University as Kant University, Vladimir Putin made some strong statements that “Kant was categorically opposed to settling any disputes between states through war” and that Russia was “trying to stick to his teaching in this respect.” Despite this new type of representation, Russia is continuing heavy militarization of the region.19 The status quo is strengthened not only through bilateral diplomacy (so that, for example, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and French President Jacques Chirac were invited to participate in these ceremonies, while close neighbors, such as Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski, were not welcomed20) but also by an increase of military presence in the region. 

The Baltic Assembly passed a resolution “Concerning the demilitarization of the Kaliningrad Region and its future development,” suggesting that “the demilitarization of the Kaliningrad Region should be treated as an essential element for the security process in Central Europe and the entire Continent.” 21 On the eve of the EU-Russia summit, Prof. Tunne Kelam, Estonian Member of the European Parliament, asked the European Commission “how systematic violation by Russian planes of the borders of EU Member States can be tallied with common values upon which the EU-Russia partnership is officially based. Is not the integrity of the EU’s eastern borders part of our common foreign and security policy? As for Kaliningrad, is it not in the interests of all parties to start to find ways to demilitarize this last vestige of the Cold War in Europe?”22 Lithuanian Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis stated that the recent crash of an SU-27 jet fighter in Lithuania has shown that it is necessary to urge the demilitarization of the Kaliningrad Region: “Keeping such forces in such a place, where they can cross the borders of a number of states in minutes, is an anachronism. It will be difficult to avoid incidents in the future, if such forces are further kept there.” 23 The Lithuanian Parliament called for the demilitarization of the Kaliningrad Region in its resolution on the crash of the Russian SU-27 fighter in Lithuania.24 The Lithuanian American Council demanded full demilitarization of the region and that its future be resolved as part of the heritage of the Lithuanian nation.25 President Vytautas Landsbergis MEP, called for a change in the status of the region and the withdrawal of all Russian military troops, but the Russians are keeping the region as a trophy of the Second World War, as they do the Northern territories of Japan.26 

Russian neoexpansionist energy policies 

In addition, using its sophisticated energy policy, Russia continues its attempts to force the Baltic States and Poland back into its zone of influence. A new deal has been concluded on the so-called North European gas pipeline through the Baltic Sea, which is to be funded by the European Union itself (!) and will have branches to the Kaliningrad region as well as to Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany and Britain; but branches to Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, or to Poland, Slovakia or other Central and East European states were not planned. This was called a new Ribbentrop-Molotov pact by many politicians and commentators in Lithuania and Poland. It was criticized strongly by Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, who attempted to reverse its provisions.27 The pipeline caused controversy in Germany; Poland perceived it as a security threat, but did little to oppose it.28 In fact, the North European gas pipeline creates the possibility of an effective Russian economic blockade of Poland and the Baltic States at some time in the future. Up to now, such blackmail, which has been used by Russia in the past, has not been possible, because any reduction in supplies to Lithuania and Poland would instantly reduce supplies of natural gas to Germany or the Kaliningrad Region (even the USSR found it could not afford to terminate the entire supply of gas to Lithuania during the economic blockade of 1990, but could only decrease the supply to one-third of the original level). At the same time, the building of an independent pipeline from Norway to Poland and the Baltic States seems unlikely, because marine law prohibits the crossover of gas lines.29 

President Putin stated (at a news conference following his talks with the French and German leaders) that Russia and Europe are “moving in the right direction” and that “natural large-scale changes are currently under way and will continue in Europe and Russia. …Our colleagues and successors will have to take this into account.” 30 In other words, this can be interpreted as saying that the rulers of the Kremlin have succeeded in increasing Russian influence in Central Europe and deceiving the democratic states, since the national security interests of the Baltic States and Poland are being ignored in return for the supply of “cheap” Russian gas and the development of the Kaliningrad Region (within the Russian Federation as a special economic zone). This, therefore, leaves Central European members of the EU within the Russian energy influence zone. There is an obvious hope that the United States would eventually accept such ‘large-scale European changes’ caused by German-Russian energy cooperation and as a consequence abandon its defense commitments to Europe through NATO. 

Concluding remarks 

European and Japanese naive hopes that “mutual understanding and trust have been deepening” are best expressed in the so-called “building of a strategic partnership” with Russia. Only recently, the eyes of many in Europe were opened when Gazprom tripled its prices for natural gas to the Ukraine and announced that long-term supplies to Europe will depend on the acquisition of pipelines in those states. Similar demands can be expected towards Japan in the future as well. The response of the EU, stating that the development of the EU-Russia relationship will depend on democratic development in Russia and the opening-up of its energy markets, is made a bit too late. An increase in EU-Japanese-USA research collaboration on alternative sources of energy and natural gas would be greatly welcomed. Further increase in the EU-Japanese-USA foreign policy collaboration in the Russian withdrawal from the Northern Territories and from the Königsberg area would be greatly welcomed as well. It would contribute greatly to the increase of security in both Europe and Japan. It would also help Russia overcome its centuries-long expansionist (tsarist, communist, neocommunist) traditions and its imperial past, helping to define itself as a nation rather than an empire. Thus, it would be a particularly important step for the security and stability of the Baltic Sea region and of Europe as a whole to coherently encourage Russia to withdraw rapidly, completely, and in orderly fashion all its military and security forces, including military pensioners, from the Königsberg region as they were withdrawn from the Bornholm island of Denmark in 1946 or from Austria in 1955 or from the Baltic States, Poland and Germany in the 1990s. It would also be in the interest of the EU member states to join the United States and Japan in their encouragement of Russian withdrawal from the occupied Japanese Northern Territories.

1. The British Foreign Secretary (Eden) to the Secretary of State, Quebec, August 23, 1943. Foreign Relations, p. 1113.
1. Interview for Lietuvos Aidas, February 28, 1992.
2. “The United States supports Japan on the Northern Territories issue and recognizes Japanese sovereignty over the islands”; see
3. Krickus, pp. 172-174. Professor Richard Krickus contradicts himself by arguing that the United States should now recognize Kaliningrad as a de jure part of Russia, while the author of this article argues that now is the right time for the United States to emphasize the policy of nonrecognition of the incorporation of this region into the USSR and to raise the issue of the illegality of Russian presence in the region internationally.
4. RG43 Records of International Conferences, Commissions, and expositions. World War II Conferences. Pre-Yalta Conferences. Teheran Conference, Minutes of Meetings, November – December 1943, General Records, 1943, E. 290, National Archive II, Washington, D.C.
5. The original of the map is missing from its envelope in the collection of the documents of the State Department of the World War II Conferences (Box 1a) in the National Archive, Washington, D.C., but see the map facing p. 601 of Foreign Relations.
6. Foreign Relations, p. 604. According to Bohlen, ‘The division that Churchill and Stalin agreed to is the one that still exists,’ p. 152
7..‘Eastern Poland between the Riga line and Curzon line’, 740.00119 Potsdam / 5 – 2446 National Archive II, Washington, D.C. 
8. See World War II Conferences material (Boxes 1A-10b), National Archive II, Washington, D.C.
9. PRO FO 10 (37).
10. PRO FO 10 (37).
11. Foreign Relations, map facing p. 601. 
12. PRO FO 934/2, p. 508.
13. PRO FO 934/2, p. 508. 
14. PRO FO 10 (37).
15. CHAR 20/236, Churchill Papers, Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, p. 258 (Official: Prime Minister: “Terminal”: record of the proceedings of the [Potsdam] Berlin Conference [Germany], July 17 to August 1, 1945).
16. Minutes of the Eleventh Meeting of the Foreign Ministers, 11:25 A.M. August 1, 1945, President Truman Library, Independence.
17. The Military Balance (2004-2005) indicates a slight increase in ground forces in 2004 in comparison with the numbers of military vehicles in 2001 (main battle tanks increased by 1 – up to 811 and armored combat vehicles by 5 – up to 865), while the numbers of ground troops remained the same: some 10,500. In 2004, there were 28 SU-27 aircraft (Baltic Fleet) and 16 attack helicopters, the ground forces were backed by 18 SS-21 Scarab missiles and the coastal defence – by a regiment of 8 surface-to-surface SS-C-1b Sepal missiles. ‘The Military Balance 2004/2005,’ p. 123.
18. ‘Russia denies violation of Estonian airspace,’ BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union, July 2, 2005. ‘Estonia alleges new air space violation by Russia,’ Agence France Presse, July 2, 2005. ‘Russian minister denies violation of Finnish airspace,’ BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union, June 27, 2005. 
19. ‘Russia will stick to Kant’s teaching on peaceful settlement of disputes – Putin,’ Interfax, July 3, 2005.
20. ‘Putin, Chirac, Schroeder to meet at Kaliningrad 750th anniversary,’ ITAR-TASS, July 3, 2005. ‘Polish Leaders: Disappointed at Russia Anniversary Snub,’ OsterDowJones Commodity Wire, June 27, 2005.
21. Resolution “Concerning the Demilitarisation of the Kaliningrad Region and its future development.” Vilnius, November 13, 2004: 
22. Debates, One-minute speeches on matters of political importance, September 26, 2005 - Strasbourg, European Parliament, http://www.­ CRE+­ 2005 0926+ ITEM-012+DOC+XML+V0//EN&­ LEVEL= 2&­ NAV= S&L=EN
23. Interview with Lithuanian National Radio, BBC Monitoring Newsfile, September 22, 2005.
24. Lietuvos Respublikos Seimas. Rezoliucija “Dėl incidento su Rusijos kariniu orlaiviu SU-27,” Vilnius, October 13, 2005.
25. Amerikos Lietuvių Tarybos Kongreso Rezoliucijos, Chicago, October 23-21, 2005.
26. ‘Lithuania: Landsbergis promotes change in Kaliningrad’s status,’ BBC Mon FS1 FsuPol grh/es, Source: Vilnius BNS www-text in English 1900 GMT 03Feb 2006. See also Landsbergis, 2003.
27. ‘Gas Pipeline To Run To Russia’s Kaliningrad Region-Report,’ Dow Jones International News, July 3, 2005.
28. ‘The Baltic Pipeline Will Seriously Impair Poland’s Energy Security But Warsaw Is Doing Little About It,’ Economic Review, Polish News Bulletin, July 8, 2005.
29. Ibid.
30. ‘Putin says Russia, Europe “moving in the right direction,”’ BBC Monitoring Newsfile, July 3, 2005.


Bohlen, Charles E. Witness to History 1929–1962, New York: W.W. Norton, 1973. 

Landsbergis, Vytautas. Karaliaučius ir Lietuva (Koenigsberg and Lithuania), Vilnius: Demokratinės politikos institutas, 2003. 

Krickus, Richard. The Kaliningrad Question, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. 

Foreign Relations of the United States. The Conferences at Washington and Quebec, 1943, Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1970.