Senior Russian politician and former diplomat Dmitry Rogozin wants his country to “cut a corridor” to link Russia with Kaliningrad, sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland.
The demand came after Lithuanian education minister Gintautas Jaksta called for the closure of Russian language schools over an incident in which a “pro-Ukrainian” pupil was shot, Lithuanian media reported on January 4.
Kaliningrad has no direct access to either Russia or its close ally Belarus. Tensions in the region have been high before, particularly in June last year when Lithuania threatened to suspend rail links through its territory to Kaliningrad.
Rogozin became Senator for the annexed Zaporozhye Oblast – a region in Southeast Ukraine – in September 2023. He is a former director general of Russian space agency Roscosmos (2018-2022), deputy Russian prime minister (2011-2018) and was Russia’s ambassador to NATO from 2008-2011.
On January 5, he took to social media platform Telegram to state that the “time has come to cut a corridor to the Kaliningrad region”.
He continued: “Visas and other permits from foreign authorities cannot be tolerated for the travel of our citizens from Russia to Russia.”
Rogozin was responding to Lithuania’s decision to stop lessons being conducted in Russian and Jaksta’s proposed closure of schools for the Russian minority in the Baltic country.
Jaksta’s call followed an incident on Christmas Eve in the capital Vilnius in which two ethnic Russians at a Russian-language school shot an apparently pro-Ukrainian classmate with an AK-74M rifle loaded with plastic bullets.
It is reported the pair carried out the alleged attack while playing a recording of the anthem of the Russian-backed Wagner mercenaries and cited their classmate’s refusal to support the war against Ukraine as motivation for their actions.
According to experts, cutting any such “corridor” from Russia to the Kaliningrad region through to Lithuania could only be achieved via Latvia or Belarus.
The region Russia seems to be eyeing is called the Suwałki Gap, immediately Southwest of the border between Lithuania and Poland.
The Suwałki Gap is regarded by NATO as critical because if Russia seized it the Baltic States could be cut off from the West.
The organisation has made it clear to Russia that any incursion onto NATO member states’s territory – such as Lithuania and Poland – would trigger Article 5 of its treaty obliging other members to militarily help the countries affected.
Despite that, analysts consider Russia could be tempted to test NATO solidarity on its Eastern flank with an, albeit limited, “surgical” incursion.
Kaliningrad, named after late Soviet general and head of state Mikhail Kalinin, became a Russian Oblast (region) rather than a separate republic in the USSR under the late Russian leader Josef Stalin.
It had previously been a part of Germany and was called Konigsberg but the area was “ethnically cleansed” of virtually all Germans at the end of the Second World War.
It serves as an important outpost for the Russian navy and has sometimes been referred to as “Russia’s giant air carrier on land”.
Its border with Poland was closed during Soviet times but, since the Baltic States gained independence, it has developed closer economic ties with the European Union.
The war Russia is waging in Ukraine has meant the borders between Kaliningrad, Poland and Lithuania have become restricted again, while EU economic sanctions have reduced trade further.