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Grace Buchholz is a Research Fellow in history at Sproglit, an educational software company, has contributed to the History News Network, and is working on a book about strongman leaders from Edward IV to Vladimir Putin.

Watch Kaliningrad. This oft-forgotten Russian enclave, squeezed between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea, may be the focal point for a dangerous economic and military conflict between Russia and NATO.

In April 2017 a battalion of NATO troops marched up to Poland’s Kaliningrad border, to demonstrate to Russia that NATO is alert to the risk. In September, Russia will amass 13,000 troops for war games in neighboring Belarus. But why should a small place like Kaliningrad, about the size of Trinidad and Tobago, matter? The answer is found in Russia’s 300-year quest for warm-water ports, and the lethal action it has often taken to secure them.

Kaliningrad gives Russia its only port on the Baltic coast that does not freeze during the winter. But President Vladimir Putin has a problem. Kaliningrad is cut off from Russian control by hundreds of miles of Latvian and Lithuanian terrain. This problem should sound familiar. From 1991-2014 Crimea, another warm-water region, was cut off from Russia. Russia’s 2014 march through Ukraine to Crimea gave it swift access to the Mediterranean. Today Vladimir Putin plots to link Kaliningrad to the heart of Mother Russia, provoking shivers in NATO generals. At the G20 Summit on July 6th, 2017 President Donald Trump did pledge to uphold NATO’s Article 5, mutual protection clause. But Kaliningrad is a long way from the concerns of the Oval Office.

Putin’s ambition to link Russia’s vast landmass to warm water is not a newfound passion; past Russian strongmen and strongwomen have shared his thirst for warm water.  When Peter the Great ascended to czardom in 1682, he studied the West and soon realized that Russia’s icy waters and frozen docks retarded its naval and maritime dexterity. While Portugal could devote twelve months a year to seafaring, Russian merchants were incapacitated by the winter and hibernated alongside the country’s brown bears.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. What a load of rubbish, hyperbole pure and simple.

    I clicked on the “read full article” just to confirm my fears that I got after the first few paragraphs that this would not include one single iota of evidence, not a quote from Putin, not a quote from a Russian general, not even a quote from a Russian military blog, and I was right.

    The top comment on the article gives a good response to this so I don’t really have to.

    More anti-Russian propaganda, surprised this isn’t in today’s Guardian.

    • I disagree. Russian officials couldn’t openly say that they wanted to march through Lithuania to link up Kaliningrad for the world’s media to hear could they? There are obvious reasons for them wanting to carry out such a movement, and that is evidence in itself. They have done that sort of thing before (Crimea) haven’t they? There is every reason for Putin to want to link up Kaliningrad, without kicking up a stir and making it obvious when an offensive will take place.

      • Sorry but I think you’re are wrong, invading a sovereign Nato state with no pretext is not “that sort of thing” when compared to what happened in Crimea. Ukraine was and is an absolute mess, the west of the country are pro EU, the east and Crimea are overwhelmingly pro Russian, the leader of Ukraine was also pro Russian, hence the reason for the US backed coup to remove him. The people of Crimea voted in favor of joining Russia by over 95% with an over 85% turnout, something the media never mentions when talking about it.

        There will be no “offensive” of any kind, Russia will not invade a Nato country.

        • Not just the US but the euorocrats in Brussels and Berlin. DO NOT leave out how much the EU stood to gain by further isolating Russia. Also giving Russia a reason to build the Nordstream 2 and there by give Germany and coincidentally Mrs.Merkel more power in Europe by being the only operable ingress point for Russian energy. Which is the only card the visegrad group can play in EU power plays that all gas has to currently be piped across they’re countries. A little hard to do when the Ukraine is in civil war.

      • Russia is not stupid. Comparing the invasion of Crimea to a possible Baltic attack is not even worth discussing. They are completely different situations. The Baltics are of little value and are NATO members. Attacking them is pointless and starts WW3.

  2. This is a terrible article backed up by zero evidence. Disappointing UK Defence Journal. Must be a slow news day.

  3. Wo the trolls (Kieran etc) have stopping bothering to hide what they are now. I have no doubt that Putin would love a land corridor to Kaliningrad but so long as we all stand by article 5 ther’s nothing to worry about. Putin is a smarter version of Mussolini not a Hitler. He has a pretty good idea of the result of a war with NATO for his regime and that is it’s philosophy stay in power, keep getting rich and keep a dumb population distracted.

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