Kaliningrad and NATO's eastward expansion

Debates between Russia and the EU about the problem of Kaliningrad (Russia's westernmost exclave on the Baltic Sea that was previously, before 1945, known as East Prussia) are growing ever more bitter with each day. And that is not accidental -- next to the EU Kaliningrad would also be "surrounded" by NATO, and that would be another test for the newly declared relations between Russia and the West.

A NATO summit in Prague, scheduled for November of this year, will decide to admit a number of East European countries into the North Atlantic alliance. It is quite probable that among its new members we will see the Baltic states as well -- Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. In this case the Kaliningrad region will become an island or a fortress, whichever one likes best, inside NATO.

After the adoption of the Rome Declaration on the establishment of a 20-member Russia-NATO Council and a turn towards new relations between them, official rhetoric concerning NATO expansion somewhat abated. But concern remains, which was confirmed by a statement from Russia's Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov during his recent Scandinavian tour.

The minister, for example, noted that in this case Russia "will have to review its guidelines regarding not only its own military structure, but also the entire spectrum of international relations both with the alliance as a whole and with the Baltic states".

Some military experts believe that in view of the altered military-political situation we will have to site Iskander-type shorter-range missiles on the territory of its exclave and, moreover, tactical nuclear weapons. But whether or not NATO's eastward expansion will generate new threats to Russia's security and whether it will be necessary to spend lots of money on changing the strategic infrastructure calls, many military analysts think, for some deep thinking and discussions.

The entry of Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia into NATO, although unpleasant for Russia in many respects, does not in itself present a direct serious military menace. (All three armies have a combined strength of 25,000 men and lack any significant offensive potential.) But with one important proviso -- if the alliance does not itself start deploying there its troops and bases storing combat equipment and weapons and organise a theatre with offensive aims. In short, if it does not upset the balance of strength existing in this region, as happened after the "first" eastward expansion of NATO, when the bloc was joined by Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland.

Besides, none of the Baltic states is subject to the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty. Nor are they obliged to observe arms quotas defined by that document, or accept control measures and military inspections by CFE member-countries. However, practical enforcement of such rules would become evidence of NATO's real and sincere attitude to Russia as its strategic partner.

In addition, the remaining questions concern military and technical supplies to our units deployed in the Kaliningrad region, movement of military cargoes there and back again, holding army and fleet exercises in coordination with units of other districts, and forces of all services and arms ...

Surrounded by NATO's military structures, this would probably be done with greater difficulty than now. Then again everything will depend on the goodwill and real teamwork between Russia and NATO in a format of, say, twenty-five, rather than a mere twenty as now.

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Author`s name: Editorial Team