Nuclear cloud of unknowing over Kaliningrad

  • 2001-01-11
  • Geoffrey Vasiliauskas
Last week, Washington Times ran a report based on unnamed sources
within the U.S. intelligence community to the effect that Russia was
deploying nuclear arms in Kaliningrad. The effect on the press, both
in the Baltic states and around the globe, was as if an actual bomb
had been detonated.

The security implications for the Baltics, and for the rest of
Europe, are clear. If Russia is re-arming in places where it had
supposedly withdrawn, Europe faces a new round of the old Cold War.

The leaders and diplomatic corps in the Baltic states reacted calmly,
saying while no confirmation could be had no conclusions could be
drawn. In point of fact, the Lithuanian government, at least, had
advance warning before Washington Times went to press.

On December 19, a strange meeting took place within Lithuania's
National Security Council on the transit agreement by which Lithuania
allows Russia to move troops and ordinance to its base in Kaliningrad
by rail. Council secretary and presidential adviser on defense
issues, Lt. Col. Darius Kalibatas, cryptically told reporters that
Russia wasn't moving "hazardous payloads" across Lithuanian
territory, but that it had expressed the wish to do so. He added the
council had received "materials" indicating Russia was in fact moving
hazardous loads via Lithuania.

Parliamentary Chairman Arturas Paulauskas, Prime Minister Rolandas
Paksas, Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius, President Valdas Adamkus
and military Chief of Staff Jonas Kronkaitis all sit on the National
Security Council. All were reportedly present during the meeting on
December 19.

The logical conclusion would be that they received the same
intelligence that was leaked to Washington Times. Significantly,
around the same time President Adamkus started talking about
rescinding the easy border and trade regime with Kaliningrad if the
Russian State Duma didn't ratify the Russian-Lithuanian border
treaty, something Russia has been putting off for some years.

Lithuania has as much interest in its ratification as Russia has in
it not being ratified. One of the early criteria laid out by NATO for
expansion to the East was that the candidate country have a stable
border and good relations with its neighbors.

Russia has flatly denied it is moving or deploying new nukes in
Kaliningrad. That might be true. The U.S. intelligence supplied to
the Lithuanian government and Washington Times might be faulty.
There's no good reason to think Russia ever removed nukes from
Kaliningrad after the fall of the Soviet Union.

In fact, when the Soviet military pulled out of Eastern Europe, the
Kaliningrad region was a way station for all sorts of military
hardware. What the United States might have detected was simply an
internal movement of nuclear material already present in Kaliningrad.
The movement of fissionable materials may mean Russia is maintaining
the Kaliningrad arsenal's readiness. Or, Russia may have wanted to
tip its hand to the West at a time when Lithuania looks poised for
NATO membership in the next round of enlargement.

If this is a case of nuclear diplomacy, Lithuania must rethink its
policy of allowing Russian military transit via its territory. Putin
came to power on promises of restoring Russian glory via territorial
aggrandizement. His personal war against Chechnya has seen the mass
violation of human rights and makes the genocide the West decried in
Kosovo pale by comparison. Putin's recent actions - from playing
nuclear submarine games in the Arctic to re-deploying forward strike
nuclear weapons in the Russian Far East - promise further
confrontation with NATO and the West in general.

If Russia wants to play the same old Soviet game of demanding
"neutrality" at strategic points in Europe (Austria and Finland in
the past, places where the Soviets couldn't openly proclaim rule by
the proletariat based in the Kremlin), Lithuania is duty-bound to
pursue her own interests and clearly show her allegiance to NATO and
the West. Ratification of the border treaty isn't the most important
issue for Lithuania's NATO membership, but solving the problem of
Russian transit is fundamental for showing Western politicians that
Lithuania is in charge of her own house.

Objective analysis by foreign observers will always reveal that
Lithuania has, if anything, erred on the side of being too good a
neighbor to Russia, and that the same isn't being reciprocated. Since
the treaty on the movement of hazardous cargoes to Kaliningrad is
automatically renewed every six months on condition neither side
objects, Lithuania must now begin to object in order to be ready to
assume NATO membership next summer. The danger is a lack of
decisiveness on the part of some in the Lithuanian government who
still seek to appease Russia at every turn. The same voices rose
against Lithuanian and Baltic independence in 1990, and we should
remember that next week marks the 10th anniversary of the deaths of
those who stood in defiance against the seemingly invincible Soviet
beast at the Vilnius TV tower and paid for the sins of the
politicians of 1940 in blood.

Fewer will remember that January 18th also marks the 300th
anniversary of the founding of the Kingdom of Prussia under Frederich
I, the German state which began in what is now called Kaliningrad. It
is far better to risk Russia's wrath now than wait for the "Great
Powers" to sort out the "Lithuanian problem" after the fact.

Lithuania will be doing the entire world a great good by ending the
rail transit agreement as soon as possible. Russia is fully capable
of servicing its territory by sea and by air without keeping its foot
lodged against the door to further NATO expansion. In fact, Russia's
main interest in keeping its territory of Kaliningrad is to have it
serve as a chip on the shoulder, something Russia can use to
influence European politics. If it can't afford such luxuries, nobody
is demanding it keep Kaliningrad.