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Lithuania is readying itself to retaliate with full force to any potential Russian attack

They know their enemy well in the south-western corner, in the village of Vistytis.

The Russian exclave Kaliningrad is located on the other side.

The wire fence that separates the two territories is extremely sensitive and can only be filmed by an official escort.

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We can see the buildings and huts that make up the Russian border posts from a few meters away.

It is so close that locals can hear the guards singing on the other side in summer.

The border post is located at the extreme end of an area called the Suwalki Gap.

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It was once known as “the most dangerous spot on Earth” and “NATO’s Achilles’ heel”. It is a 60-mile stretch (96.56km) along the border of Lithuania and Poland.

It also serves as the shortest land route from Russian ally, Belarus to Russian territory in Kaliningrad.

There is concern that if President Vladimir Putin decides to escalate the war on Ukraine, Russian troops stationed at the Suwalki Gap’s eastern and western ends could simultaneously push in from both the east and west, potentially isolating Lithuania Latvia and Estonia from NATO.

Linas Kojala is the director of the Eastern Europe Studies Centre. She says that the Suwalki Gap could be a vulnerability because Kaliningrad or Belarus – which are now basically a military extension to Russia – could attempt to cut off the Baltic States from Poland.

“If Ukraine falls, we have a problem”

Vistytis is not in panic despite this. However, some residents aren’t forgetting that Russia has troops and allegedly nuclear weapons right next to Kaliningrad.

Vilius Kociubaitis is the current doctor of the town and a former military medic.

He is familiar with nervous people and says that some of them have packed their cars to flee to Poland (with its large military) if Lithuania is ever threatened.

Vilius says, “We are afraid because Ukraine could fall. The Russians will be coming to us from Kaliningrad as well as Belarus.” It’s a huge risk.

This fear is compounded by the announcement by Belarus earlier in the month that roughly 9,000 Russian troops would be deployed there as part of a “regional gruping” of forces. It claims these troops are necessary to protect its borders.

Lithuania is a NATO member so it enjoys the protection of the alliance. However, the conflict in Ukraine has thrown people off their feet.

Image Vilius Kciubaitis

More Than 8,000 volunteers militias joined

Voluntary militias have experienced an increase in applicants who are willing to defend their country.

According to the Riflemen’s Union, the number of members has increased from 5,400 at the beginning of the year up to over 8,000 today.

Others joined the foreign legion in Ukraine.

Mindaugas Lietuvninkas was in spring combat with the Russians around Irpin, and is currently training for a return stint.

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He reminisces about what it was like to be under Soviet control in Lithuania during the occupation.

He tells me that the Russians want to return, but they won’t.

We find another possible danger zone at the eastern end the Suwalki Gap.

If Putin decides to attack, the Russian troops that are currently stationed in Belarus over the barbed wire could easily cross the border.

Image Mindaugas Lietuvninkas

“We must be ready all the time”

The government of Lithuania admits that the “Suwalki Gap” is a crucial point and, while there is no imminent threat to invasion, the risk still exists.

Vaidotas Ubelis, the political director of Lithuania’s Ministry of National Defence, stated that “We must always be ready,”

“In the short-term, I think the Russian capabilities and risk are lower but the risk of escalation risk is higher. That’s why it’s important to be ready for anything to happen.

Image Vaidotas Urbelis

“We saw some concentrations of Russian forces around our camp before the conflict.

“Now it’s lower because everyone went to Ukraine… but despite the fact that the personnel around us has decreased, the majority of the equipment and force required are still available.”

Lithuania insists that its military is ready for any Russian aggression.

NATO allies also sent reinforcements, and this month conducted one of the largest international military drills in Lithuania with around 3,500 troops.

The country is still in a state of alert: it’s watching its borders, strengthening its defenses, and ready to retaliate against any attack.

Image A special event at the Imperial War Museum that examines the conflict in Ukraine


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