Kaliningrad, Russian Outpost, Is Once more a Flash Level in East-West Relations

A former American nationwide safety adviser as soon as referred to as Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave sandwiched between the NATO members Poland and Lithuania, “a dagger within the coronary heart of Europe.”

Now Kaliningrad, a port metropolis captured from the Nazis by the Soviet Union throughout World Warfare II, as soon as once more finds itself a fault line in a Chilly Warfare-style battle between Russia and the West.

The Russian authorities this week threatened Lithuania with retaliation if the Baltic nation didn’t swiftly reverse its ban on the transportation of some items to Kaliningrad by rail. The restrictions uncovered the geopolitical vulnerability of Kaliningrad, which is Moscow’s westernmost outpost however greater than 200 miles from mainland Russia.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has stoked tensions within the area, the place recollections of Soviet subjugation run deep.

As nationalist rhetoric has grown extra intense in recent times, Russia has moved superior Iskander missiles into Kaliningrad, which is on the Baltic Sea. Lithuania’s protection minister mentioned in April that Russia had stationed nuclear weapons within the area, which Moscow denies.

Having invaded Ukraine and deployed its troops to its pliant ally Belarus, Russia has instantly flexed its army muscle close to the borders of a number of NATO nations, together with Baltic nations. Solely a skinny hall between Lithuania and Poland, about 60 miles lengthy, separates Russian forces in Belarus from Kaliningrad.

Whereas analysts say that Moscow, already overextended in Ukraine, is unlikely to impress one other struggle in Europe, any assault on a Baltic state would set off NATO’s mutual protection treaty. And any try to defend them must get previous Kaliningrad and the missiles stationed there.

There was a time when Russia touted Kaliningrad as an emblem of its hyperlinks with European tradition. Within the Nineties, the Russian authorities promoted Kaliningrad’s previous ties to Germany to assist entice vacationers, lauding its position within the life and work of the 18th-century German thinker Immanuel Kant, who was born and lived in Königsberg, the regional capital now named Kaliningrad. (The Soviet authorities renamed the town in 1946 after Mikhail Kalinin, a Bolshevik revolutionary.)

Town has had different high-profile residents: Lyudmila Ocheretnaya, the previous spouse of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, was born there.

Within the rapid post-Soviet period, Moscow tried to reinvent Kaliningrad as its personal duty-free Hong Kong. The area sprouted with factories producing automobiles, electronics and furnishings. After the provincial authorities negotiated visa-less journey to Polish border areas, the Ikea outlet in close by Gdansk, Poland, grew to become a well-liked vacation spot for Russians.

However Moscow traditionally has additionally sought to obfuscate Germany’s historic ties to the realm. Within the Sixties, the Soviet authorities blew up a still-standing portion of a Gothic fort to make manner for the Home of Soviets, a towering constructing meant to represent the Soviet Union’s management over former German territory. As a substitute, the constructing was marred by structural defects, was by no means totally occupied and have become a monument of kinds to Soviet failure.

The newest flare-up with Lithuania isn’t the primary time Kaliningrad has been the locus of tensions.

In 2016, about 70 nautical miles off Kaliningrad, two Russian Su-24 planes buzzed the American guided missile destroyer Donald Prepare dinner, simulating an assault and drawing protests from Washington.

In one other episode that very same month, a Russian warplane intercepted an American reconnaissance aircraft at an unsafe distance over the Baltic Sea.

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