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This fundamental fact, that Europeans have depended on the Americans for their security and independence, has been obscured by the miasma of panic, posturing and passive aggression that has gripped the continent since Trump’s election and especially since his inauguration.

I have focused on Lithuania, however, not merely because it may be seen as representative, both in its historical predicament and in the delusions of its leadership, but because it happens to be adjacent to an obscure corner of Europe of which only a few of its German, Polish and Baltic neighbours are acutely conscious: Kaliningrad Oblast, the Russian exclave in the heart of Nato. This neglected and desolate place, cut off from the rest of Europe and connected to Russia only by sea and air, was a closed military base throughout the Cold War. A forbidden and forgotten city, Kaliningrad failed to revive in the boom of the 1990s in newly liberated Poland and the Baltic states; a million Russians still languish there in grinding poverty, with low life expectancy and lower expectations. Only now is it undergoing a restoration: not of its former architectural and intellectual glories, let alone its mercantile fortunes, but of the sinister function it had in Soviet times: as a fortified base from which to threaten the West. Putin has turned Kaliningrad into the most militarised region of Europe, bristling with Iskander and Bastion missile systems, stealth aircraft, warships and surveillance equipment. It is just 328 miles from Berlin.

Until Stalin annexed and renamed the city after 1945, Kaliningrad was Königsberg, the old capital of East Prussia. In 1256 a Castrum de Coningsberg appears in the documents: the castle on the River Pregel, accessible to but sheltered from the Baltic, dominated the city below for the next seven centuries. It had once been the seat of the High Master of the Teutonic Knights, later of the Electors of Brandenburg and the Kings of Prussia. In the 18th century Königsberg was eclipsed by Berlin as a political and economic hub, but continued to be important in the intellectual rebirth of Germany and even of Europe. In particular, the philosopher Immanuel Kant, who spent his long life there, was a magnet for talent who gave Königsberg a comparable role in the Enlightenment to Edinburgh. This Athens of the Baltic was home to such Romantic luminaries as J.G. Herder and J.G. Hamann, the magus of irrationalism and the prophet of culture; Heinrich von Kleist, whose meteoric career illuminated the bleak landscapes of East Prussia with his fiery genius; and E.T.A. Hoffmann, whose uncanny tales still make our flesh creep. In the 20th century the political philosopher Hannah Arendt and the late Chief Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits were two of the few members of Königsberg’s thriving Jewish community to escape before the war.

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October 24th, 2017
7:10 PM
The author has never been in Kaliningrad-Konigsberg. Why write a lie? There live normal people, not distressed. We also do not want war as you are. Our army on its territory, and that makes the American. And good to remember that 70% of königsberg was razed to the ground British aircraft in 1945. Come join us in the city, talk to people, look at our life and you will realize that we Jeno so different from you.

March 2nd, 2017
12:03 PM
"Ukraine’s territorial integrity was guaranteed by the signatories of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum" What is also disturbinb to Americans is that this "agreement" was never ratified by our Senate. It reeks of the pre-World War I commitment of Britain to aid France and Belgium -- resulting in an automatic road to war without consultation with Parliament or the British people. I thought such "gentlemen's agreements" were ruled out after 1918; but here they are back again -- diplomats commit their countries and peoples to wars over obscure obligations about which they were not consulted, over borders and foreign disputes in which they have no interest.

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