For First Time, NATO Stages War Games in Baltic 'Weak Spot'
Suwalki Gap is vulnerable due to geography
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 19, 2017 2:40 PM CDT
Polish troops take shelter from pouring rain during a ceremony welcoming a deployment of NATO troops in Orzysz, northeast Poland, Thursday, April 13, 2017.   (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

(Newser) – NATO has a weak spot along the Poland-Lithuania border, a 65-mile-long frontier in an area known as the Suwalki Gap that, if seized by Russia, would cut off not just Lithuania but Latvia and Estonia from the rest of the Western alliance. Over two days recently, the first large-scale NATO defensive drill was conducted there, Reuters reports. US and British troops ran the war games alongside troops from Poland, Lithuania, and Croatia, simulating a defense of the area despite the fact that Russia denies having plans to invade the Baltics. Lithuania's intelligence service says Russia could attack the Baltics with as little as a day's notice.

"The gap is vulnerable because of the geography. It's not inevitable that there's going to be an attack, of course, but ... if that was closed, then you have three allies that are north that are potentially isolated from the rest of the alliance," US Lieutenant General Ben Hodges tells Reuters. AFP further explains that the Suwalki Gap is "sandwiched between Russia's highly militarized Kaliningrad exclave and Belarus, a close Kremlin ally." NATO began building up forces in the Baltic states after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in the Black Sea in 2014, a move that caused NATO to start viewing Russia as more of an adversary. Russia has claimed the build-up is making the area less stable.

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