Putin’s trip to westernmost exclave ‘isn’t about NATO’ – Kremlin
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s trip to the country's westernmost region of Kaliningrad is not aimed at sending a message to NATO, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said.
Putin arrived in Kaliningrad on Thursday – which is also Students Day in Russia – to meet with students at a local university. According to the Kremlin, he will also meet with local officials to discuss the economic and social welfare agenda.
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. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it remained part of Russia, but is now bordered by NATO member states (Poland and Lithuania).
Commenting on Putin’s trip, Peskov stressed that when he “visits Russian regions, this is not a message to NATO nations,” adding that the main focus should be on the president’s actions.
The main thing is not to send messages, but to do what he has been doing for many years, namely working for the betterment of our country and our regions, to improve the economy, and to develop socio-economic projects.
However, Peskov said that Russian officials took “special security measures” to protect the president on the trip. He also noted that Moscow did not request a direct flight path over Lithuania to reach Kaliningrad. Shortly after the start of the Ukraine conflict, the EU imposed unprecedented sanctions on Russia, including a complete ban on Russian planes flying over its territory.
Amid the standoff between Russia and NATO, Poland and Lithuania announced plans earlier this month to conduct military exercises in the Suwalki Gap – a narrow strip of land between Belarus, an ally of Moscow, and Kaliningrad.
Western media outlets have suggested that Russia could target this area in the event of a full-scale conflict with NATO, potentially cutting the Baltic states off from the rest of the US-led military bloc.
Russia has repeatedly denied having any plans to attack the alliance, saying it has no interest in doing so.