By Greg Pence
Threatening Kerch Bridge and Suwalki Corridor in Retaliation for Energy Shortage and Economic Stagnation in the West
Although there is currently no progress on the ground fronts of the war in Ukraine, Russia and NATO have been able to fully become cognizant of each other’s strengths and weaknesses after about 5 months since the start of the war and prepare themselves for a full-scale decisive war or reach an agreement that can lead to a temporary ceasefire.
Oil and gas exports act as Russia’s leverage since it can lead to economic stagnation and an increase in the inflation rate and fuel prices in the West, perhaps it can be said that Moscow is waiting for the cold European winter. On the other hand, some opportunities exist for the USA and NATO: Attempting to fully dominate Russia’s water and air borders in the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, and the Black Sea. The Suwałki Corridor and the Kerch Bridge on the Black Sea are Russia’s weak points, and if the pressure of the war causes the closure of the corridor and the destruction of this bridge, it will be the beginning of nuclear action or the start of World War III by Russia.
In his recent speech, Putin directly threatened a longer war in Ukraine and warned that the big war that could set Europe or the world on fire has not yet started. After unsuccessful ground attacks, Russia is now rebuilding its frontline forces and preparing for new attacks in Ukraine in order to assure NATO and Kyiv that it will not refrain from implementing its plans to control the entire Donbas and Crimea and even continue the war. In other words, Putin’s message is that the war is not over and Europe will experience a cold and hard winter due to the heavy military measures ahead in Ukraine. Kremlin is well aware that it needs billions of dollars for the reconstruction of the war-torn and sanctioned Russian army and economy. However, the problem is that the capital is under the control of the west. The worst-case scenario for the Kremlin is to lose the war and have to pay billions of dollars in damages to Ukraine and Western countries. In such a situation, Moscow should export free oil and gas to the West for at least half a century with a bankrupt economy.
Another problem for Putin to continue the war or enter into peace negotiations is that he does not have a strategic ally. Putin continues the war only with the hope that by imposing the cost and damages of the war on Ukraine and its Western supporters, he can have the upper hand in future peace negotiations, in the hope that the winner of the battlefield will not pay the damages. Russia has lost its diplomatic and political power in the United Nations and has gone to Iran and Eurasian countries in the hope that, if possible, something similar to the Warsaw Pact and the former Comecon market can be created to deal with the new Cold War of USA. Among all the Eurasian and Middle Eastern countries, only Tehran can vehemently support Russia through its sea and land routes. Even the Chinese Foreign Minister, in a meeting with his American counterpart, which took place on the sidelines of the recent G20 meeting in Indonesia, showed that Beijing does not intend to provide serious military support to Russia and that the issues between Washington and Beijing are related to the tariff war and Taiwan.
While Russia is only equipped with the tool of war to fulfill its purposes, USA and NATO are present in Ukraine with all their political, economic, military, and even media potential. By managing the world public opinion and providing them with selective information, the American intelligence tools have succeeded in manipulating the fate of the Ukrainian war by demonizing the political structure of Russia to such an extent that all NATO member countries have accepted the leadership of the United States in the management of the war and put Moscow in complete political isolation.
After the cancelation of the neutrality of Finland and Sweden and their request to join NATO, the length of the war front lines for Russia has increased by several thousand kilometers in the Baltic Sea and the North Sea. As a result of the increase in the length of the war fronts, Russia should leave vulnerable areas and focus on vital and strategic points. It can be said that the margins of the war for Russia and even Ukraine have increased to such an extent that even temporary victories in the war do not have a serious impact on the fate of the war. For instance, the capture of Snake Island at the beginning of the war had operational and strategic importance for Moscow because it was easy to capture and also displayed Russia’s power. The blockade of Odesa gave the Russian Navy the ability to block the movement of military and commercial ships towards the south of Ukraine.
When the Russian forces tried to separate Ukraine from the Black Sea, NATO put more pressure on Russia in Lithuania and fueled two major challenges against Moscow in the Black Sea and Kaliningrad. Firstly, NATO can limit Russia’s naval maneuver power in the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea and put Russia in a strategic dilemma by blocking the Suwałki corridor and sending Harpoon missiles to Ukraine at the same time.
Since Russia could not make maximum use of sea and land routes due to weak infrastructure, it had to maintain its position in the Black Sea and the North Sea. Therefore, the only solution was to retreat from Snake Island. It can be said that this was the first major concession in the war, and in return, Lithuania agreed to lift the ban on the rail transport of sanctioned goods- Russia has land access to Kaliningrad through a 60-mile land route between Belarus and the border province of Kaliningrad called the Suwalki Corridor, and it is the most important land route or extra-territorial corridor of Russia to reach the Kaliningrad and the Baltic Sea. The effect of time on the Ukrainian war has now shown its effects on the weaknesses and strengths of the parties; the point is that resorting to nuclear war or instigating the third world war is possible for whitewashing these weaknesses since USA and NATO have been able to gradually make reaching the Baltic Sea and the North Sea more difficult for Russia, as a sign of warning for Kremlin in order to stop its saber-rattling, and this warning can eventually put Russia under complete land, sea, and air blockade.
With Finland and Sweden joining NATO and connecting three bays of the North Sea, NATO can practically fully block Russia in the sea- except for two regions considered as Russia’s territorial waters. Overcoming this blockade is only possible through conquering Lithuania, as a NATO member. This occupation would be an unprecedented litmus test for Article 5 of NATO. It remains to be seen in the case of Moscow’s invasion of Lithuania for re-opening the Suwalki corridor, whether NATO will enter the field for defending its member or it will overlook this occupation as was the case during Turkey-Russia skirmishes.
There is no doubt that by withdrawing from the strategic Snake Island and allowing the export of Ukrainian grain, Russia is seeking to soften the international atmosphere with the aim of getting out of international isolation. Moscow described this action as a sign of goodwill and not opposing the UN plan to create safe shipping lanes in the Black Sea. However, another center that can make the USA or NATO enter the war or even instigate the nuclear war is the “Kerch Bridge” on the Black Sea. Russia built this bridge between 2015 and 2018 to connect Crimea with the Russian mainland. This 19 km long bridge is the largest bridge in Europe, built between the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea.
Sending American medium-range missile launchers to Ukraine that can hit this bridge has created deterrence against Russian ground invasion. In addition, General Breedlove, a Pentagon spokesperson, has said that the USA is not against the Ukrainian attack on Russia’s Kerch bridge if the war is exacerbated. These provocative talks, which consider the attack on the Kerch bridge as a legitimate action, will be another fatal blow to Russia after the sinking of the Moskva cruise. Therefore, an attack on the Kerch bridge could increase the possibility of a nuclear confrontation with unpredictable consequences.
Greg Pence is an international studies graduate of University of San Francisco