Located on the shores of the Baltic Sea, between Poland and Lithuania, Kaliningrad is a piece of Russia in the heart of Europe. A curious territory, isolated from Moscow after the fall of the USSR, today transformed into a military fortress facing NATO. In Kaliningrad, headquarters of the Russian Baltic fleet, there are 30,000 soldiers, hypersonic missiles and nuclear capability.
We were able to enter this territory almost inaccessible since the war in Ukraine. In this closely guarded enclave, the journalists followed the elections for the new governor. The outgoing candidate, Antone Alikhanov, who is totally loyal to Vladimir Putin, renewed his mandate with 80% of the votes. Kaliningrad is under economic embargo by the European Union and its population is suffering. Foodstuffs are becoming scarce. The price of coal is exploding. But, fed by the Kremlin’s television propaganda, most of the population supports the war. Only the Europeanized youth dare to half-heartedly criticize the government.
The strategic situation of Kaliningrad and Putin’s desire to conquer it are worrying its neighbors, the Baltic states. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, former Soviet republics, have been members of NATO and the European Union since 2004. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has revived the spectre of the Soviet occupation. So the three Baltic countries are doing everything they can to defend themselves.
In Lithuania, ordinary citizens are taking up arms and training to become soldiers. In civilian life, Smilte is a communications director. On weekends, she puts on fatigues and participates in exercises with a Lithuanian paramilitary militia.
In Latvia, the government wants to wipe out its Soviet past. It has ordered the dismantling of buildings glorifying the USSR era and restricted the use of Russian in public spaces. A decision that raises the anger of the Russian-speaking minority that represents a third of the population. Elena and her daughter are part of this minority, economically disadvantaged and increasingly ostracized.
Between a war of memories and a highly militarized territory, we dive into the heart of the tensions between Kaliningrad and the Baltic States.