NATO has a problem: Kaliningrad could be Putin’s unsinkable ‘aircraft carrier’

Clearly, the Russian military is not the first-rate force that military planners have always assumed – or at least capable enough to defeat Ukraine. And yet, NATO would be unwise to rule out Moscow entirely, because geography gives Russia at least some advantages. For example, Kaliningrad is a piece of territory with which NATO must be concerned. Here’s why it’s important: The term “unsinkable aircraft carrier” first appeared during World War II. The term describes islands and atolls in the Pacific Ocean that are of significant strategic importance. In the European theater of operations, the Island of Malta under British control was also described as a crucial and unsinkable carrier for the Royal Air Force.

Today, the term applies to more than islands.

The Russian enclave of Kaliningrad is about the size of Connecticut and is wedged between Poland and Lithuania, members of NATO and the EU. Kaliningrad is often considered the most capable and unsinkable aircraft carrier in the Russian Baltic Fleet. Last week, the Baltic Fleet carried out a series of simulated missile strikes of the exclave of its nuclear-capable Iskander system.

According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the Baltic Fleet Forces conducted training sessions to “carry out simulated missile strikes with the crews of the operational and tactical Iskander missile systems”. The Iskander has a reported range of around 185 miles. If launched from Kaliningrad, the Iskander could hit targets in western Ukraine, Poland, the Baltic States and parts of Germany.

The last exercises follow Inauguration on April 29 of the Russian military’s new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, which has a range of nearly 11,200 miles, putting the continental United States within its potential range. The Sarmat has been in development for several years.

History of Kaliningrad

Kaliningrad is one of the 46 oblasts (administrative regions) of Russia, but it is the only one that does not have a land border with another part of the country. The territory’s roots go far back in history, and its recent past is closely linked to the fate of East Prussia and its capital, Koenigsberg, after the defeat of Nazi Germany at the end of World War II.

The region was founded by the Teutonic Knights in 1255 and has long been associated with German militarism. However, as noted by Stefan Wolffprofessor of international security at the University of Birmingham, she is also famous for the philosophers Immanuel Kant, who lived all his life in Koenigsberg, and Hannah Arendt, who spent part of her childhood there.

The town of Koenigsberg and the adjacent area – about a third of East Prussia at the time – was occupied by the Soviet Red Army. In 1946, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin renamed it in honor of Mikhail Kalinin, who had been chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet – the head of state of the Soviet Union – at the time of his death in 1946. The area once had a very mixed population that included Germans, Poles, Lithuanians and Jews. Stalin ethnically cleansed most of its German population. He followed this with a systematic campaign of Russification that sought to erase all traces of German heritage.

As a Russian military base, the area adds significantly to Moscow’s strategic depth. It is also seen as a key asset to Moscow’s anti-access and area-denial capabilities in the Baltic Sea. It could even undermine NATO’s freedom of maneuver across the Baltic countriesas well as in parts of Poland.

Today’s editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites. He writes regularly on military hardware and is the author of several books on military headgear, including A gallery of military hairstyles, which is available on Peter is also a Contributing author for Forbes.

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