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07/02/2018

Flashpoint: Kaliningrad

Michael Birnbaum of the Washington Post recently had a piece on the challenges NATO faces, logistically, in dealing with a potential Russian invasion of Eastern Europe and the Baltics.  Items such as awful roads that troops and transport would have to traverse, bridges that won’t take the weight of a tank, and all kinds of bureaucracy, until war was actually declared.  As in mere preparation for a potential invasion, such as a necessary troop buildup, would take much longer than you’d think and could lead to defeat, as has been the case in war games conducted in Washington.

But Mr. Birnbaum has the following on what I have long said in my “Week in Review” column is a potential flashpoint few Americans know about...Kaliningrad.

“The trickiest spot to defend in all of NATO is likely the narrow strip of land that connects Lithuania to Poland. The 40-mile-wide corridor is hemmed in by the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad on one side and Belarus, a Russian ally, on the other.  It is the Baltic nations’ lifeline to the rest of NATO – and the connection is through a single rail line on the wrong gauge and one usable two-lane highway over rolling terrain that switches from lakes to forests to farmland.

“Worried Western officials have started calling the area the Suwalki gap, taking inspiration from the Fulda Gap that was the weakest point in Cold War-era defenses of West Germany.

“The Suwalki area is well within range of sophisticated Russian antiaircraft missiles stationed in Kaliningrad, so in combat simulations, NATO commanders have hesitated to send warplanes near the region. That led to the Baltics quickly being seized.  Any troops coming in on the ground would have to fight without air support – and their entry into the region could be halted by something as simple as a single overturned truck on the highway.

“ ‘The place that is most vulnerable to this kind of a rapid strike is the Suwalki corridor region,’ said Hodges, the former commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, who has been working on a report about how to bolster the area’s defenses.

“Now, camouflaged troop carriers ply the region’s roads, some of which are so narrow they don’t have lane markings to divide each direction of traffic. Long columns of cars can pile up behind slow-moving trucks on the main route into Lithuania; the only alternative is a country road that can’t handle heavy traffic. Lumbering Belarus-built tractors can sometimes make the traffic move even more slowly.

“The vulnerability means that if Russian troops were massing across the border, NATO would need to deploy – fast. A 2016 study from the Rand Corp. found that Russia could seize the Latvian capital of Riga in 60 hours or less.

“ ‘We cannot change the geography,’ said Lt. Col. Mindaugas Petkevicius, the deputy commander of a NATO logistics team based in Lithuania. ‘It’s a natural choke point.’

“Inside Lithuania’s military headquarters, the need for speed is on stark display.  Packed rucksacks stand on top of the closets in every office so that workers can mobilize immediately if war breaks out. Computer keyboards have Cyrillic-alphabet overlays, the better to communicate with Russian and Belarusan counterparts.

“ ‘The Baltics could be the place where Russia tests all of NATO,’ said the officer who runs logistics for the Lithuanian Defense Ministry, Lt. Col. Valdas Dambrauskas. ‘If it fails, all of NATO fails.’"

Hot Spots will return in a few weeks.

Brian Trumbore



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Hot Spots

07/02/2018

Flashpoint: Kaliningrad

Michael Birnbaum of the Washington Post recently had a piece on the challenges NATO faces, logistically, in dealing with a potential Russian invasion of Eastern Europe and the Baltics.  Items such as awful roads that troops and transport would have to traverse, bridges that won’t take the weight of a tank, and all kinds of bureaucracy, until war was actually declared.  As in mere preparation for a potential invasion, such as a necessary troop buildup, would take much longer than you’d think and could lead to defeat, as has been the case in war games conducted in Washington.

But Mr. Birnbaum has the following on what I have long said in my “Week in Review” column is a potential flashpoint few Americans know about...Kaliningrad.

“The trickiest spot to defend in all of NATO is likely the narrow strip of land that connects Lithuania to Poland. The 40-mile-wide corridor is hemmed in by the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad on one side and Belarus, a Russian ally, on the other.  It is the Baltic nations’ lifeline to the rest of NATO – and the connection is through a single rail line on the wrong gauge and one usable two-lane highway over rolling terrain that switches from lakes to forests to farmland.

“Worried Western officials have started calling the area the Suwalki gap, taking inspiration from the Fulda Gap that was the weakest point in Cold War-era defenses of West Germany.

“The Suwalki area is well within range of sophisticated Russian antiaircraft missiles stationed in Kaliningrad, so in combat simulations, NATO commanders have hesitated to send warplanes near the region. That led to the Baltics quickly being seized.  Any troops coming in on the ground would have to fight without air support – and their entry into the region could be halted by something as simple as a single overturned truck on the highway.

“ ‘The place that is most vulnerable to this kind of a rapid strike is the Suwalki corridor region,’ said Hodges, the former commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, who has been working on a report about how to bolster the area’s defenses.

“Now, camouflaged troop carriers ply the region’s roads, some of which are so narrow they don’t have lane markings to divide each direction of traffic. Long columns of cars can pile up behind slow-moving trucks on the main route into Lithuania; the only alternative is a country road that can’t handle heavy traffic. Lumbering Belarus-built tractors can sometimes make the traffic move even more slowly.

“The vulnerability means that if Russian troops were massing across the border, NATO would need to deploy – fast. A 2016 study from the Rand Corp. found that Russia could seize the Latvian capital of Riga in 60 hours or less.

“ ‘We cannot change the geography,’ said Lt. Col. Mindaugas Petkevicius, the deputy commander of a NATO logistics team based in Lithuania. ‘It’s a natural choke point.’

“Inside Lithuania’s military headquarters, the need for speed is on stark display.  Packed rucksacks stand on top of the closets in every office so that workers can mobilize immediately if war breaks out. Computer keyboards have Cyrillic-alphabet overlays, the better to communicate with Russian and Belarusan counterparts.

“ ‘The Baltics could be the place where Russia tests all of NATO,’ said the officer who runs logistics for the Lithuanian Defense Ministry, Lt. Col. Valdas Dambrauskas. ‘If it fails, all of NATO fails.’"

Hot Spots will return in a few weeks.

Brian Trumbore