Geopolitical high stakes gambler President Putin is so patriotically affronted by NATO tanks on his front lawn in the Baltic region that there is one sign at least that he might just be contemplating to engineer a ‘crisis’ in Kaliningrad.
Kaliningrad, for those like me who really forgot that it existed, it’s Russia, but not as we know it. It is an exclave, territory cut off from the mother country by someone else’s country in the way. Think Alaska, but not with friendly Canada, eh, in between, but the fearful ex-Soviet Baltic States who have had quite enough of Soviet-style domineering empires.
Locked in by Poland in the south and Lithuania to the north, Kaliningrad’s half a million citizens aren’t particularly threatened by anybody or anything right now. The EU slides money across the table to them while Moscow has equipped the nearly 6,000 square miles with troops, radar and missiles to defend Russia’s ice free port for the Baltic fleet.
After Ukraine, that man Putin has no fear any longer of Nato’s big stick. Brussels apparatchiks’ aspirations for an army of their own to play soldiers with, along with President Obama’s studied inaction anywhere that is not the Pacific basin, have effectively decoupled and denuded the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation of — its organisation.
You can guarantee that the hawkski in the Kremlin are encouraging Putin that there is no better time tactically to drive a corridor from Russia proper through to Kaliningrad and the sea, while NATO countries are paralysed with lists of political uncertainties.With elections in the US, France and Germany, plus Brexit agonies at the EU, the threat of another recession and nationalist populism everywhere, purposeful focus is unavailable in the West.
How easy it would be to manufacture some threat to Russian citizens from, say, neighbouring Lithuania and then send in Russian regulars in unmarked uniforms to ‘protect’ those Russians — it worked before. President Putin already has quiescent and authoritarian ally Belarus to use as a staging post for this corridor.
And just to make sure that NATO — nowadays contemplating with trepidation boots on the ground and body bags on the tarmac — does not try even its air power to thwart President Putin’s manoeuvres, this week ‘Western defence sources’ briefed out that the Russians had just deployed some Iskander-M short range nuclear-capable ballistic missiles in contravention of treaties it signed.
So is a Russian land grab definite? No. You’ll know we’ve bought the ticket on this particular ride when you hear any stories at all coming out of otherwise quiet Kaliningrad.