Next Front?

As I pen this the almost constant chatter is about Ukraine. I’m certain I will have much more to say about that in the not-too-distant future but for today I’d like to look ahead. Many will say I’m being pessimistic and I hope I am. Foreign policy is not that different from basketball (or most sports for that matter); you have to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.

I have to assume Putin will have at least some success in taking over Ukrainian territory; he certainly has to date. The questions of the day are how much success and how much territory. Let’s assume a worst case scenario and Putin gets effective control of all of Ukraine. That puts him right on the doorstep of Poland and NATO. But then he already is.

Most Americans don’t know what Kaliningrad is and certainly couldn’t find it on a map. This is not the first time I have written about it but today it is the feature of the article. Kaliningrad is actually the western most part of Russia. Not the old Soviet Union, a Russian territory or a nation under Russian influence, but Russia itself. Much like Alaska or Hawaii is part of the United States.

Kaliningrad became part of Russia after World War II as part of the Potsdam Agreement of 1945. It is about 5000 square miles of land bordered on the Northeast and east by Lithuania, the south by Poland, and the west, northwest and north by the Baltic Sea. Both Lithuania and Poland are NATO member countries.

In land size Kaliningrad is larger than Rhode Island, Delaware or Connecticut. (Actually, just a bit larger than Connecticut alone.) Not huge by the standards of nations but it would make a heck of a military staging zone! The port is ice free year round and currently is the headquarters of the Russian Baltic Fleet. Can you see how easy it would be to land a plethora of troops and armaments?

If you are looking for help from the denizens forget it. The ethnic makeup of Kaliningrad is currently over 87% Russian with about 4% Ukrainians (of what loyalty I have no idea) and less than 1% Polish. You can be sure the residents would welcome Russian troops and their money.

One of the contingencies being anticipated in the current situation is a large immigrant population fleeing Ukraine to Poland. That would make Poland a target of an emboldened Vladimir Putin seeking to reconstitute the Soviet Union.

The West seems a bit perplexed as to how to handle the current situation and how to define it. How would they possibly deal with a Russian troop buildup on Russian land?

I don’t know how this will all end. For me it looks too much like 1930s Europe! All I know is that the current act won’t be the last one of this play. History teaches me that.

Kaliningrad; remember that you (in all likelihood) first heard of it here and keep an eye on it.

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