Is Poland’s Suwałki Gap Europe’s Achilles’ Heel? Think tank analyses NATO strategy ahead of Putin-Trump summit

NATO troops exercising in Poland. Tomasz Waszczuk

The best way to avoid a Russian attack on the Baltic States is to convince Moscow to avoid testing NATO in the first place, say report authors.

How can a Russian attack on NATO’s eastern flank be avoided? This is the broad question addressed by a new report by the Center for European Policy (CEPA), a think-tank in Washington, D.C. specialising in security and defence. 

Based on research, site visits and discussions with experts on both sides of the Atlantic, “Securing The Suwałki Corridor: Strategy, Statecraft, Deterrence, and Defense” provides detailed analysis of the challenges faced by NATO – and how it should respond.

Since the conflict in Ukraine broke out in 2014, NATO has been thinking hard about how to better protect itself against aggression by Russia. These concerns are most acute on the Alliance’s eastern flank, in Poland and the three Baltic States. In this context, the new report  presents recommendations for maximising NATO’s effectiveness in the region in terms of deterrence, defense, and counter-attack.

On the border between Poland and Lithuania, the Suwałki Corridor is a 65-km stretch of land between Kaliningrad and Belarus. Analysts have long highlighted its strategic importance, in the context of the Russian threat. 

In the event of a Russian attack on the Baltic States, Russian troops could cut off land access to them by blocking the narrow Suwałki Corridor. This would prevent NATO reinforcements from arriving via Poland.

“If this Corridor is not fully secured, NATO’s credibility as a security guarantor to Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia could be seriously undermined,” warns the report, which is co-authored by Ben Hodges, former commanding general, United States Army Europe, who now holds the Pershing Chair in Strategic Studies at CEPA.

For the report’s authors, the primary goal is to prevent Moscow from dividing NATO over Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which commits member states to consider an armed attack against one of them an armed attack against them all. 

The best way to avoid a Russian attack on the Baltic States, they argue, is to convince Moscow to avoid testing NATO in the first place. To this end, they advocate a smart “preclusive defence”, aiming to foster fear and uncertainty in the Russian military and political leadership.

The report’s concrete recommendations for leaders in Europe and Washington include greater intelligence sharing, upgrading staff structures and expanding deployments in the Baltic States. 

Other recommendations centre on limiting Russia’s options through better signalling, preparing for escalation and demonstrating penalties.

To read the report click here.