Ukraine invasion: Dire warning over Suwalki Gap that Russia's Vladimir Putin may target next

While it may look peaceful and idyllic, the rolling hills nestled in a 100-kilometre-long stretch of land could be Russian President Vladimir Putin's next target.

The Suwalki Gap has been called "the most dangerous place on earth". It straddles Poland and Lithuania - both of which are NATO members - and divides Russia's Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad from Moscow's client state of Belarus. Many of Russia's nuclear weapons are also in Kaliningrad.

Kaliningrad receives much of its supplies via routes through Lithuania and Belarus. Tensions increased in mid-June when Lithuania said it would bar the transit of Kaliningrad-bound goods through its territory, including coal, metals, and construction materials.

The Kremlin called the move "unprecedented and illegal" and called to the European Union's top diplomat in Moscow to complain.

The Polish side of the Suwalki Gap, near Zerdziny.
The Polish side of the Suwalki Gap, near Zerdziny. Photo credit: Getty Images

"We consider this to be a most serious violation," Kaliningrad Governor Anton Alikhanov said in response to the move, which he said would affect up to half of Russian exports to the exclave. 

An expert said in 2017 that the Suwalki Gap could be easily overcome since it's the only thing that divides Kaliningrad from Belarus and its pro-Moscow government.

"Russia has very powerful forces stationed in Kaliningrad and with troops from Belarus it could be quickly closed," Alexey Muraviev, a Russian strategic defence affairs expert from Australia's Curtin University told

The Suwalki Gap is marked in red. It is straddled by Poland and Lithuania, with Kaliningrad and Belarus at either end.
The Suwalki Gap is marked in red. It is straddled by Poland and Lithuania, with Kaliningrad and Belarus at either end. Photo credit: Google Maps

There are concerns that any conflict with the West would mean Russia could sweep the Suwalki Gap simultaneously from the east and west, which would sever the European Union's Baltic countries from their allies in the south.

"It's a huge vulnerability because an invasion would cut off Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia from the rest of NATO," said former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves.

Another reason Putin may want to target the Suwalki Gap is that it is the only rail and road connection from the Baltic countries to the rest of the European Union and its NATO allies. An electricity connection - which would eventually allow Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to remove themselves from Russia's power grid - also runs through the Suwalki Gap.

Andrey Gurulyov, Russian State Duma deputy and former deputy commander of Russia's southern military district, recently on state TV discussed the size of the Suwalki corridor that would satisfy Russia.

"Everyone was arguing over Lithuania … To break through for a corridor where NATO forces would be on both sides? Not one normal member of the military would go for it," he said.

"We need to break through for a corridor from St Petersburg along the Baltic Sea coast. Only then will we have a normal supply route for the city of Kaliningrad.

"I see no other option. That is the only way. We'll go it alone, no need to involve Belarus."

While it's unknown whether an attack on the Suwalki Gap is imminent, Mikhail Kasyanov, a former Russian prime minister under Putin, said the war in Ukraine could last for up to two years and it was imperative that Ukraine wins.

"If Ukraine falls, the Baltic states will be next," he told AFP.

NATO leaders are due to meet in Madrid, Spain this week, where Russia's invasion of Ukraine will be top of mind.