Lithuania blockades Kaliningrad: can it provoke a Russian attack on NATO?

Following Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine, two Nordic countries that had been firmly neutral, Finland and Sweden, decided to reverse their policies and apply for NATO membership. Membership in the Alliance is undoubtedly one of the “disasters” for Moscow after the outbreak of the war, as it has considered the eastern expansion of the group as “a security threat”.

The geostrategic map of the region is likely to be altered when the two countries join, which if there are no changes and Turkey eventually gives in after its veto, will happen by the end of this year or early next year. “The Baltic Sea will become a NATO lake,” Andrey Kortunov, head of the Russian International Affairs Council, a Moscow think tank affiliated with the Russian Foreign Ministry, explained a few days ago.

Along with this, one of the territories that will be most affected will be Kaliningrad, a strategic territory that was annexed to the Soviet Union in 1945, and that despite being next to the border between Lithuania and Poland, two member countries of NATO and the EU, where there is a military base with nuclear weapons and which for years has been the focus of geopolitical tensions between Russia and the Atlantic Alliance.

In addition, Lithuania announced Monday the partial blockade of the transit of goods to the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, something that Russia has considered “illegal”. “As a member country of the EU, Lithuania in the framework of sanctions violates a number of legally binding international acts that affect not only the obligations of Lithuania, but also of the European Union as a whole,” said Konstantin Kosachov, deputy chairman of the Russian Senate, on his Telegram channel.

This waterway provides maritime outlets to the ports of Baltiysk and Kaliningrad in Russia, as well as to the Polish ports of Elbląg , Braniewo , Tolkmicko, Frombork, Sztutowo, Krynica Morska and Nowa Pasłęka. Because of its strategic location, it has been one of the main Soviet naval bases in the Baltic Sea, along with Riga (the capital of Latvia) and the island of Kronstadt near St. Petersburg.

Meanwhile, the Lithuanian government has justified itself and assured that this is not an “own decision” of the Vilnius authorities, but a consequence of the sanctions imposed by the European Union on Russia.

This decision has provoked Moscow’s protests and fuels tensions between Russia and NATO. In addition to the fact that the Lithuanian side has violated international law, Moscow complains that the blocked cargoes make up between 40 and 50% of the territory’s total imports.

Where is Kaliningrad?

Kaliningrad is a port city in Eastern Europe, located at the mouth of the Pregel River, which flows into the Vistula Lake, which in turn connects with the Baltic Sea through the Baltiysk Strait. It was German territory until the end of the Second World War (1939-1945), when the then Soviet Union appropriated it and changed the name of Könisberg to Kaliningrad, in honor of the revolutionary Mikhail Kalinin.

Covering an area of 15,100 km², it has a population of 482,443 (2019) and is isolated from the rest of Russian territory, bordered to the north and east by Lithuania and to the south by Poland.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Lithuania’s independence in 1991, Kaliningrad came under Russian sovereignty and at the same time geographically separated from the rest of Russia. And with the war in Ukraine, this area has regained prominence as a point of increasingly sharp divisions between the West and Russia and a crucial area for Moscow’s offensive against Ukraine and for securing its defenses against any hostility from NATO countries. In fact, the Kremlin has been deploying strategic weaponry in Kaliningrad throughout the war.

Kaliningrad map
Kaliningrad map

Could Russia attack Lithuania to force its way in?

Unlike Ukraine, Lithuania is already a NATO country and numerous ground units from member countries and Spanish and Czech fighter jets are deployed there right now.

Although one can never know what is going on inside the Kremlin’s thinking heads, it is difficult for them to decide to confront NATO countries directly because, firstly, after what we have seen in Ukraine, the Russian technological disadvantage is much greater than expected and, secondly, because right now the Russian armed forces are completely exhausted and it is more than doubtful that they have the slightest capacity to sustain a second war.

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