Strategic significance is what so profoundly influences the regard in which certain territories and some spaces are viewed by nations in the impact of what can be availed out of them. And specifically when the issue is that of an ever escalating tension and one that is among the most notable of its kinds in the current times, it is inevitable indeed that strongholds and ‘forts’ would still come to encompass enormous essence even when navigating through a conflict simmering in multilinear troughs of what accounts for the complex character of duel in the modern day and age.
The current context is defined indeed by what is now quite a long drawn encounter within the European expanse, with the neighbouring countries of Russia and Ukraine engaging since late February in a constant tussle the course of which has seen many an elements of hostile drama unfold along its range of continuance. Stifling though not just the two nations actively engaged in combat but impacting also other territories of the worldly dominion not just restricted to Europe as well has been this global breakout that remains still true to of course the even aggravated complexities of the continental. With Lithuania being the latest nation to barge into this murky state of affairs the attention has been focussed not just on the NATO member itself but also on an exclusively Russian premise that has for long been an entity of interest in the Kremlin context.
The very ground of the Lithuanian involvement in this Russian aggression happens to be the intriguing region called Kaliningrad, steeped itself in a history esteemed in its own. With none of its boundaries running common to the Russian revelation in physical territory, Kaliningrad identifies as a semi exclave sandwiched between the nations of Lithuania and Poland that places itself thus in a tricky place when it comes to accessibility. And it is this very context of reach and convenience that endows upon Kaliningrad a significance highly possible of characterising as crucial in and for the Russian narrative.
Within the Russian setting, territorially that is though not geographically, Kaliningrad harbours within itself the prospect of impacting the ‘game’ in manners that tend not to be unidimensional. As the region where the town of Baltiysk, the only year round ice free port city of not just Russia but also for all Baltic nations is located, the distinction of Kaliningrad is instantly evident. And it is in this core of such crucialness that the crux of the latest challenge lies, with a Lithuania bound by its obligations as an EU member deciding to cater to all such obligations in social and moral necessity perpetually even accelerating the Kaliningrad potential in significantly directing the consequences of the state of affairs prevalent now.
In putting in place such sanctions deemed by the Russian administration as ‘openly hostile’ that Lithuania has effected by restricting the transportation of Kaliningrad bound goods through its territory, the trade and transport hub aka the strategic space that this historic European city has established itself as has been more than opened up to such measure that makes it rather imminent an identity to find itself yielding immense importance in not just the Russian stance over Ukraine but also over Lithuania for sure and perhaps by extension to other expanses of the continent as well.
And while the Baltic nation has only asserted its allegiance to the EU directive in acting in such manner that it has by prohibiting the transportation of coal, metals and construction materials as well as advanced technology through what has long been the ordinary route along its territory to Kaliningrad, Lithuania still finds itself in a spot with an infuriated Russia promising to respond to this blockade. That said, what might still irk Russia more than enough to go all out against the newest non ally it has ‘gained’ is the fact that despite not imposing ‘unilateral, individual or additional’ restrictions against the warring nation, Lithuania also did not seek actively to secure for itself exemption from sanctions propounded but not mandated by the European Union to find itself shining out from amongst the pages summing up an undesirable black list within the Russian bad books.
It isn’t just Lithuania though that might be impacted by this move of it in adhering to EU backed sanctions. Of larger interest might be the whole NATO identity that risks facing strategic counter response from Russia particularly in the choice of territory through which such restrictions has been sought to be enforced. It of course is the unparalleled ‘stature’ of Kaliningrad that holds the basis when it comes to NATO being one of the involved parties in this expanding Russian- Ukrainian circumstance. And that because Kaliningrad has been often speculated, surreptitiously so though, of being the Russian bastion in considerable might of nuclear weaponry. That, coupled with the official knowledge of the city being home to the headquarters of the Baltic fleet of the Russian Navy and the probability of Kaliningrad proving to be the accelerator in this highly volatile play of the military stands as even more resounding a proposition of a non remote reality.
For both Lithuania and the NATO as well as for the other country invariably interlinked with Kaliningrad in the geographical assertion of it being Poland specifically important to the Ukrainian cause as its supplier of crucial NATO weapons, this transgression over the way of life of the westernmost Russian oblast can very well see it manifest as the launchpad from which the world’s largest country could very conveniently unleash its unrestrained military might. For as long as Russia’s claim to Kaliningrad has prevailed, that goes back quite a long time in history.
It might have been the disintegration of the Soviet Union that made Russia directly encompassing of this expanse of importance steeped also in such favoring of the Kremlin in its extent of access to the strategic presence of the Suwalki Gap. But ever since the end of the Second World War in 1945 Kaliningrad has been administrated by the USSR, specifically by the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. In fact so glaringly significant the region has come to be for Russia ever since and also in relation to the identity of the Baltic states that the issue has been well explored over the years as a global matter referred to as the Kaliningrad question. With Kaliningrad proposing for independence from the Russian governance since the early 1990s, the region sure makes for a prospect in even more importance for Russia and definitely not across just a single strand of being.
In such long standing interest of the Russian power that Kaliningrad has managed to sustain within itself, the holding of it in so much crucial importance by its administrative entity sure is not hard to decipher. Which is why Lithuania choosing to not allow Kaliningrad bound provisions through its territory makes for a more potential case in rubbing Russia the wrong way. Anyway a staunch supported of Ukraine, Lithuania’s recent anti Russian stance only fuels further the tensions brewing for long in the shadows of the ‘in the open’ Russia- Ukraine war. And on its part Russia has made evident the displeasure the Lithuanian course of action has caused it, outright terming it a blockade evoking therefore the case of a military context.
But beyond the projection of this issue in such light, what might be more consequential here is the message that the inhabitants of Kaliningrad are being made to receive. With essentials like food and medicine being allowed to pass unhindered and it being only construction items that are being sanctioned in their entry, Kaliningrad isn’t technically made to bear the brunt totally of the Russian decision yet. But in seeking to portray the situation in a more Russia vs the world light inwardly to the Kaliningradians, already battered economically owing to the current situation over and above its isolated existence making already a case in economic underdevelopment, it should be a war time agenda indeed to flare up tensions otherwise such that any intention of an anti Russian sentiment are nipped. To say that Kaliningrad will prove to be a definite factor in determining the way things span out over the times to follow in the Russian- Ukraine conflict in particular and the status vis-a-vis the EU/ NATO identity in general might sound not so convincing yet, but there sure is no missing the underlying ultimatum that Kaliningrad can end up delivering on this issue of all importance today in a world waiting with bated breath to witness it wrap up all ASAP.