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9 May, 2024 23:52

Ex-NATO commander calls for Russian region to be ‘neutralized’

James Stavridis has called Kaliningrad a “geographic wedge” between the bloc’s members
Ex-NATO commander calls for Russian region to be ‘neutralized’

Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander James Stavridis has suggested that the US-led military bloc’s members should “neutralize” Russia’s westernmost exclave of Kaliningrad if Moscow seriously endangers the security of the Baltic states.

Kaliningrad (formerly Konigsberg) belonged to Germany until the end of World War II, when it was handed over to the USSR under the Potsdam Agreement. It remained part of Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union and, after several consecutive waves of NATO expansion, found itself completely surrounded by the bloc’s members.

In an op-ed for Bloomberg, published on Thursday as Russia was celebrating the 79th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany, Stavridis outlined his views on Kaliningrad as the last remaining nuisance that prevents the Baltic Sea from turning into a “NATO lake.”

“A glance at a map shows that is largely (but not completely) true – the coastline has a couple of slivers of Russian territory. The rest of the coastal littoral is in NATO hands: Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany and Denmark,” the retired US Navy admiral and former supreme allied commander of NATO wrote.

Stavridis praised last year’s Baltic Operations exercise as a demonstration of “how NATO could use its Baltic Sea forces across the spectrum of naval activity” to send an “ominous signal” to Russia.

“Look for NATO to use its Baltic lake to put pressure on tiny Kaliningrad, which acts as a geographic wedge between NATO’s Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – and the rest of the alliance,” Stavridis wrote. “In the event of war, Kaliningrad will need to be neutralized so Russian land forces – likely operating through Moscow’s vassal state Belarus – cannot take control of the critical Suwalki Gap.”

The Suwalki Gap is a narrow strip of land between Moscow’s ally Belarus and Kaliningrad that runs along the Lithuania-Poland border. In the wake of the Ukraine conflict, NATO’s Baltic members have limited overland traffic between the Russian mainland and Kaliningrad under an EU embargo. However, they stopped short of imposing a full blockade as some analysts have suggested severing Russia’s access to its own territory could, to some extent, be considered a ‘casus belli’ – a cause for the declaration of war.

Poland and Lithuania recently staged military exercises in the strategic area, as Western media outlets and officials speculated that Russia could target the territory in the event of a full-scale conflict. 

Russia has repeatedly denied having any plans to attack the alliance, with President Vladimir Putin stressing that Moscow “has no interest… geopolitically, economically or militarily” in doing so.

“Russia will do everything to prevent a global conflict, but at the same time we will not allow anyone to threaten us,” Putin stated in his address to the Victory Day military parade in Moscow.