Kaliningrad: The Russian Front Behind Enemy Lines
Kaliningrad, sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland, is completely cut off from mainland Russia. It’s 300 miles from Berlin but nearly 700 miles away from Moscow. 
 
Seized by Stalin for the Soviet Union in the postwar period after 1945, it's now home to a diverse population of half a million inhabitants.
 
Based in the heart of Europe, the oblast commands key strategic and geopolitical importance for Russian President Vladmir Putin, allowing him to maintain a Russian military presence in the region.
 
It was also the suspected destination for two nuclear-capable Russian aircraft flying over the Baltic Sea intercepted by NATO fighter jets in March. 
 
The city was named Kaliningrad in honor of Mikhail Ivanovich Kalinin, who was one of Stalin's top lieutenants. His statue still stands in the city.
 
Gone are the days when the USSR had over 100,000 troops stationed in the region, but this narrow stretch of land is still home to the Headquarters of Russia’s powerful Baltic Fleet which commands 56 warships, two submarines and at least 3,500 troops (excluding the 10,500 troops in the Kaliningrad Special District).
 
 
Much to Europe’s disdain, however, Kaliningrad offers a prime location behind enemy lines as a launchpad for ballistic missiles, evidence of which occurred in late March of this year.  
 
At the same time, it emerged that Poland planned to build watchtowers along the 200-kilometre-long border it shares with the exclave, amid concerns of a Russian military build-up.
 
The six 50-metre towers will provide the Polish security forces with a 24-hour surveillance capability, with much of the funding for the project coming from EU partners.
 
On top of the strategic importance of the region, recent reports indicate that Russia has spent the past several years modernising its fleet with cutting edge weaponry and equipment, including the new S-400 missile launchers, rather than simply increasing troop numbers in the seaport city.
 
Long-range Iskander ballistic missiles are being sent to the Kaliningrad exclave.
 
Johan Wiktorin, author of 'Korridoren till Kaliningrad' (The Corridor to Kallingrad) and a former Swedish Military Intelligence Officer had this to say: “The arming of Kaliningrad forms part of a 19-trillion-rouble (€296bn) plan to increase the share of modern weapons in the Russian armed forces’ arsenal from 10% to 70%.”
 
 
Russia often holds military exercises in the region.
 
 
"According to a recent report by the Casimir Pulaski Foundation, a Polish security think tank, the plan features the acquisition of 120 Iskanders along with 600 aircraft, 1,100 helicopters, 100 ships and 2,300 tanks."
 
If tensions continue to flare over Russia’s moves in Ukraine, and the flow of munitions remains unfettered, Europe will have to train both eyes on its own backyard.

 

 

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