Pulling Together


Kaliningrad: Russia’s Achille’s Heel

As Putin’s vicious attacks on Ukraine continue and the world has reacted against his aggression, he has raised the threat of his access to nuclear weapons. That is not the first time he has tried to utilise them in a non-defensive context. After the Salisbury poisonings he met Britain’s protests with an angry reminder he had them in an attempt to frighten us into silence. It did not work.

Nor has it worked this time. The EU’s response was to ban all Russian-registered aircraft from its airspace.

It would appear Putin’s effort to bolster his waning support by putting his country into a totally unnecessary war with a country which posed no threat is highly likely to backfire. Far from securing his position it has made him more precarious. Ukraine has proved not to be the easy pushover he envisaged. Rather, it is clear a highly armed general population has managed to inflict many casualties which will raise distress and anxiety among ordinary Russian families and the lack of progress combined with economic sanctions will not please the other oligarchs whose interests support his power base. Military commanders must also have their doubts about his orders, and a largely conscript army might pay only lip-service to commands, doing enough to avoid being shot by a firing squad but not enough to risk being shot by the enemy. It appears if the Russian army does obtain control, the preponderence of arms among the populace will equip a long-term resistance movement rendering continued occupation costly. Could raising the possession of Nuclear weapons at this stage be a sign of desperation?

Bad though this might look, it could get a lot worse for Putin. That’s because the closure of EU airspace will have a profound effect on one corner of Russia itself, reducing its contact with the rest of the country. Kaliningrad is a triangular piece of Russia separated from the rest of the country by Poland and Lithuania. It has both land and sea borders with those two NATO countries, and a short sea border with their fellow-EU neighbour, Sweden. Land contact with Kaliningrad is possible only with the permission of Poland or Lithuania. Air contact is only legally possible if the EU has granted permisison to fly over territorial waters, although Russia appears to be flying over the Baltic Sea which, according to normal maritime law, should be EU airspace. Sea contact involves passing through the territorial waters of either Sweden or Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. If Sweden, Poland, and Lithuania extended sanctions to closing their waters, Kaliningrad would be besieged. How this would be enforced or what would be at stake if Russia ignored it is a good question.

That raises numerous further questions. How loyal to Putin is the Kaliningrad population? Would garrisons in that part of Russia allow civilians to collect basic supplies from any checkpoints Poland or Lithuania might set up to ease the hardship of ordinary Kaliningrad residents? Who would the residents blame if they did not? How self-sufficient is that land? Would the people rebel and set up an alternative Russian government in their area? What would happen if other countries began to recognise Kaliningrad as the true Russia and cut ties with the larger maverick area? Far from strutting on the world stage, Putin could find himself marginalised abroad and despised at home for losing part of his country.

Of course, that’s a lot of ifs, but it could be a plausible scenario if Putin turns enough of the world against himself. He really does need to be careful.

As for the people of Ukraine and those suffering loss and grief in both countries, my thoughts can only be with them. Whatever comes out of this, they are the real losers. We can only hope for a speedy end to the violence and a safe conclusion for the rest of the world.

The sooner Putin goes, the better for us all.

About the Author

K J Petrie has a Full Technological Certificate in Radio, TV and Electronics, an HNC in Digital Electronics and a BA(Hons) in Theological Studies.

His interests include Christian and societal unity, Diverse Diversity, and freedoms from want, from fear, of speech, and of association. He is a member of the Social Democratic Party.

The views expressed here are entirely personal and unconnected with any body to which he belongs.

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