Eryk MISTEWICZ: The necessary condition for ending the war

The necessary condition for ending the war

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Marketing strategies consultant. Polish Pulitzer laureate. Counsellor for firms, institutions, public figures in Poland and France, writer and chief editor of Nowe Media quarterly.

Ryc.: Fabien Clairefond

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If this war is to end fairly, the Kaliningrad Oblast – Russia’s military enclave in the centre of the European Union – must be dismantled.

.Kaliningrad Oblast is a Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea bordering Poland and Lithuania. Interestingly, Russia has never been here. For centuries, it was the land of the great Polish-Lithuanian state, which at its height encompassed the territories of present-day Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus and Ukraine. It was also the territory of German Prussia – but never Russia.

Right now, Kaliningrad Oblast is Europe’s biggest hotspot. Its mere 15,000 square kilometres are teeming with Russian weapons. Until 1991, foreigners were not allowed to enter this Russian enclave; nowadays, access is still difficult, especially for Western tourists. Closed military areas make up one-third of the region. Baltiysk is the largest base for the Russian fleet, which operates from here in the Baltic Sea, the North Sea and beyond. The military airfields of Chernyakhovsk, Khrabrovo, Donskoye and Chkalovsk are active, while the airfields of Baltiysk-Kosa, Nivenskoe and Dunayevka remain ‘dormant’. Kaliningrad enables both naval and air operations, including the potential deployment of nuclear weapons, throughout Europe. Of course, the countries on NATO’s eastern flank are the most susceptible to a swift all-out attack initiated from this location.

The Suwałki Gap, a small area separating the Russian vassal state of Kaliningrad from Belarus, where the border between Poland and Lithuania runs, is now Europe’s hottest military spot. Because of the said Kaliningrad. It has no significant industry, education, social or cultural life, only Russian military bases that worry the countries of the region. Troops, the army, a naked, aggressive force with missiles, planes and boats of all kinds ready to attack Europe.

Looking at the map of the area, I wonder if it will remain unchanged once the war is over. Will Kaliningrad still be used as military blackmail after the war? Will Russia emerge from this conflict without major losses and with the potential to threaten Europe, including, in particular, my country? What are the reasons for leaving Kaliningrad as a part of the Russian Federation?

After the Second World War, the area was initially granted to Poland, which had once ruled it for centuries. However, Poland was occupied by the Soviets after the war. Although the Poles fought heroically alongside the Allies, the decisions made at Tehran and Yalta placed our country, along with much of Central and Eastern Europe, in the Soviet sphere of influence for decades. Thus, the Kaliningrad Oblast became part of the USSR and a military depot for the Soviets.

The war in Ukraine unleashed by Russia can only be resolved fairly: through compensating for damages, holding the perpetrators of crimes accountable and withdrawing troops from the occupied territories. This is the basis of Zelensky’s 10-point peace plan. The people of Central Europe understand all too well that failing to punish the aggressor and address their crimes will only lead to a repeat of the same scenario, but with even greater intensity, in the next phase of imperial aggression. For over three centuries, almost every generation of Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Czechs, Slovaks, Romanians and Bulgarians had to experience this. But the rest of Europe seems unable to comprehend it. We are experiencing aggression at its bloodiest. Should we keep making it easier?

Kaliningrad is the litmus test of the world’s approach to Russia and its understanding of the country’s imperial character that originated during the reign of Tsar Peter I. He believed that Russia could only be deemed an empire if it established its western borders along the Baltic and Black Seas. I cannot imagine the Kaliningrad Oblast remaining part of the Russian Federation’s territory.

I see three solutions. Option one involves transforming the district into a demilitarised zone under international supervision – this point should be included in peace talks that will inevitably take place. Taking away Russia’s ‘central military depot’ aimed at Europe should be written into the package of guarantees and post-war sanctions against the Kremlin’s power as an obvious element – obvious not only for Poland and the countries of Central Europe.

Option two is to create a republic governed by the European Union. Again, this would be a result of a peace settlement at the end of the war. EU governance would, of course, entail the destruction (and de facto withdrawal to Russia) of Kaliningrad’s military resources, especially its nuclear potential.

The third option would be to divide the Kaliningrad Oblast between the neighbouring states of Lithuania and Poland. However, this seems unlikely and would pose major problems in managing the area and its population. It is doubtful that Lithuania or Poland are willing to take on the associated problems (including ecological ones, given the contamination of the area after the stationed troops). Especially since Poland is already home to more than 2.5 million Ukrainians who have sought shelter from the war, benefiting from extensive support provided by the Polish government.

The worst scenario would be to disregard the events and leave the Kaliningrad Russian enclave in Europe after the war. We need to discuss and analyse this topic today and make sure it is included in the agenda for future peace talks. Russia needs to understand that it will not keep its imperial gateway to Europe and its arsenal in Kaliningrad after this war. For its part, the West must recognise the deadly threat at the heart of Europe.

.Central European countries have learned from their dramatic history over the last 300 years that ignoring crimes, allowing aggression to go unpunished, pretending that nothing happened and prioritising immediate peace over imposing consequences on aggressors encourages further expansion. An unpunished empire always becomes more audacious.

Eryk Mistewicz

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