Kaliningrad is a real oddity. Not only the only Russian exclave, this strategically placed oblast (state) of the Russian Federation is a boon to Moscow yet a pain to the western alliance that has chosen to surround it. Let’s take a look at Russia’s bridge to the Baltic.
Blast from the Past.
Formerly Königsberg, the capital of Eastern Prussia and historically dating back to the thirteenth century, it fell to Soviet forces in 1945, it being agreed in the Potsdam Conference that the city of some eighty six square miles and environs of 5,800 be part of the Russian SSR. During the years of the Warsaw Pact, its location was of no consequence, Soviet land and air forces being able to transit through Belarus and Poland to get there. With the fall of the Iron Curtain and Poland’s subsequently becoming a member of NATO, this was no longer possible, all military transport having to be by air or sea, bypassing NATO and its airspace. With the current tense situation between Moscow and Washington, the area is now of strategic importance, yet its relevance may yet become a lynchpin in the area.
Half of the Gap.
A recent article demonstrates the importance of the Suwałki Gap, the 50 mile wide corridor between Kaliningrad and Belarus that all NATO assets have to pass in order to reach the Baltic States. In case of war, this would be an invaluable route for alliance assets in their efforts to reinforce their positions in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, yet viewed from a western perspective, this small outpost causes big problems in so many ways. Not only is it one side of the Suwałki Gap, but it is half of the plan to deny NATO access to an area of critical concern.
The Prickly Bear.
Far from being some dreamy outpost of the Russian Federation, this small exclave positively bristles with weaponry. As politics and allegiances have changed over the last thirty years, so has Kaliningrad’s position in the face of increasing threats from the West. Should a European war break out, the territory would likely be cut off in the short term, its installations and armaments being suited to such a situation. As well as possessing an array of airborne assets, it famously hosts the nuclear-capable Iksander-M missile system, those warheads being stored here and not needing to be transported from ‘contiguous’ Russia. Aside from the airborne power it wields, Kaliningrad is one of Russia’s three military ports for the Baltic Fleet, with considerable naval assets being based here. Apart from the ubiquitous submarines, corvettes and amphibious landing craft are also present. For all its apparent vulnerability, this place punches way above its weight.
One worry for Moscow is the increasingly wobbly stance that Finland and more pointedly Sweden have regarding NATO membership. Approximately 140 miles northwest of Kaliningrad lies the Swedish island of Gotland, this being of vital importance to the security of the Baltic Sea. Should Sweden enter into any conflict as part of NATO, not only are forces on the island a direct threat to the passage of Russia’s Baltic Fleet, they also jeopardize Kaliningrad itself. The importance that this exclave has, not only to Russian ground forces in general but also to the security of shipping cannot be overestimated. As previously mentioned, in the early phase of a war, it would likely be cut off, and in the overall plan of things, its role would be remarkably similar to that of Gibraltar during the Second World War.
Russia’s smallest oblast is not only its westernmost frontier, but is also surrounded by a pack of western wolves baying for war. The near future will tell us whether more in the region want to become part of the western alliance, yet for all the talk of war, should anyone beg that question of this region, war is what they will find. The colony is the Bear’s western fortress, yet should anyone try pushing their way in, the seven bridges of the old city of Königsberg will be the least of the problems that this area would presents them…