There is a huge deterrent that would keep Russia from trying to invade Europe and it is not cruise missiles, attack submarines, sophisticated tanks or modern aircraft; the reality of the situation is that the highly mountainous terrain in Eastern Europe is less than ideal for launching an invasion. That is why being able to defend a small 60 mile wide stretch of flatland in Northeastern Poland is critical to NATO’s defense of Europe- should it come to that.
The name of this critical stretch of land is called the ‘Suwalki Gap.’ It lies on Poland’s border between Moscow-friendly ally Belarus and only a few hundred miles to the east of the huge Russian military stockpile in their enclave of Kaliningrad. These days, Russia is constantly staging unannounced ‘snap’ exercises in Kaliningrad and next to the borders of the NATO Baltic Member States of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia; the thought is that, if one or more of these Russian exercises turns into an active war situation, an attack through the Suwalki gap could quickly split off the Baltic State members from the rest of the conflict and leave them very vulnerable to Russian occupation.
It is a move that would greatly weaken NATO’s position and their ability to defend the rest of Europe. Add to that the growing number of Russian fighter and bomber aircraft incursions into NATO airspace recently and it is the type of thing that admittedly keeps Lt. General Ben Hodges (the US Army’s European Commander) with just cause for more than a few sleepless nights as of late.
Why is the area critical to NATO’s defense of Europe? A look at the current situation with NATO countries tells the whole story. Russia is bordered to the northwest by NATO member Finland and bordered to the west by the Baltic States and Ukraine. Pro-Russian Belarus is the only weak link for NATO on the entire Russian border with Eastern Europe. If the Russians successfully breach the Suwalki Gap and cut off NATO’s Baltic member states, it theoretically would significantly lessen NATO’s border pressure on Russia when combined with the fact that Eastern Ukraine remains largely Pro-Russian also. Experts believe that an attack through this flat area of land, which is perfect to move Russia’s armada of tanks and armored vehicles, is inevitable if hostilities should break out between Russia and the west.
NATO’s borders have extended greatly to the east with the breakup of the former Soviet Union, but the fears of a Russian-type ‘Blitzkrieg’ remain the same; the situation is similar to the Cold War fear that the former Soviet Union would try to invade Eastern Europe through the Fulda Gap in Eastern Germany. More than 300,000 US troops were assigned to Germany back then to make sure this did not happen. The reality of the situation today is that General Hodges has only 30,000 American troops at his disposal to do the same job for NATO today; so, the numbers gap will have to be overcome by superior tactics, readiness and the perceived advantages in NATO technological superiority.
Recent military exercises by NATO, that were observed by invited Russian onlookers, were designed to demonstrate to Moscow NATO’s ability to quickly assemble a sizeable and effective fighting force on short notice in the region. It is obvious that the ability to defend the Suwalki Gap is critical to any NATO defensive strategy in Eastern Europe.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.
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