Russia’s ‘Next Target’ In Europe Is Suwałki Gap; Could Start Mission During US Elections: Leaked Doc

By Ambassador Gurjit Singh

The German Zeitenwende and the continuing crisis in Ukraine challenge the German way of life. The German government is coping with the policies since Zeitenwende was announced, the German people seem diffident in accepting that German military policy and defence capacities must be prioritized.

The diminishing performance of the German economy accentuates these anxieties.

In a recent poll by the ARD, 54% of Germans said that if something had to be cut from the state budget, it should be an aid for Ukraine. However, in a parallel survey on the public radio ZDF, 70% said that Ukraine should receive more military equipment from Germany. This dichotomy reflects the anxieties in Germany.

These do not factor in that German capacities for increased defense production are not in place, and it would take time to cope with Ukraine’s demands and the demands for rising military preparedness in Germany and Europe.

Germany is the second largest provider of defense equipment to Ukraine after the US. This is a sea change over two years since initially Germany only provided helmets.

Despite this approach, Germany’s Military Industrial Complex has not grown in any major way. Its ability to service Germany’s own military requirements, to replace what was despatched by Germany and its allies to Ukraine is awaited.

It is evident that Germany is now in a new era after 30 years of peace since the end of the Cold War. Germany realizes that if it is to have a major overhaul of its defense policy and deployments, then German society and domestic infrastructure both need greater understanding and flexibility in case Germany faces a direct war.

Germany has long neglected its infrastructure, like railways, bridges, and roads, and lived off their longevity and reputation. Significant investments in domestic infrastructure so that tanks could actually move on the autobahns and on the smaller bridges, for instance, are being understood in Germany.

The ‘leak’ of a confidential paper prepared by the German Ministry of Defence has drawn questions on German preparedness and acceptance by the German people and how the Zeitenwende needs greater public support without causing them further anxiety.

The leaked paper, according to BILD newspaper, is based on a series of presumptions. Each segment presents a chain reaction to a potential enhancement of the Ukraine crisis in which NATO and Russia would gradually build up troop levels in Eastern Europe, leading to a confrontation, if not a conflict, at the Suwałki Gap, the Polish-Lithuanian land bridge between Belarus and Kaliningrad, by mid-2025.

The lack of a conclusion indicates that perhaps the paper is an effort to bring forth the possibilities of conflict to the German mind and prepare them better for a reorientation of government policy, the economy, and their own perceptions. What the paper says about the scenario is heavily dependent on a tumultuous US election campaign leading to the possible victory of Donald Trump.

The Alliance Defence 2025 paper portends Russia starting calling up 200,000 reservists by February 2024. If their quality is good, they could breach the Ukrainian defensive positions in the next spring offensive. By July 2024, the paper portends Russian cyber-attacks and hybrid warfare, essentially focusing on East Central Europe and the Baltic states. Russian-speaking areas in the Baltics, as in Ukraine, could be provoked.

A huge exercise, Zapad 2024, with 50,000 troops from Belarus and Russia, could take place in September 2024. If this sets off alarm bells in NATO countries, then Russian perception warfare, alleging an impending NATO attack through Central Europe and the Baltics, would ensue.

Russia, at this stage, may enhance force deployments in Belarus and deploy bigger missiles in the Kaliningrad enclave, indicating their strategic goal of closing the Suwałki Gap.

Once the US election occupies the attention of the US, Russia may use the American period of introvertedness to create border skirmishes and civilian riots around the Suwałki Gap by December 2024, followed by physical occupation.

Poland and the three Baltic countries would feel extremely threatened and require much greater assistance from NATO. If that assistance is provided, Russia will raise the threat of NATO invasion question in the UN Security Council by January 2025 and enhance troop levels all around to prevent such a threat.

According to the German paper, by March 2025, Russia would have deployed two armored divisions, one division of mechanized infantry, and a divisional headquarters around NATO borders, of which about 70,000 troops would be mobilized in Belarus.

The new US administration would be in place and take remedial actions, but would perhaps be forced to approve ‘credible deterrence’. This will have up to 300,000 NATO troops mobilized, which would include a 10 percent contribution by the German military, according to the paper.

This scenario concludes one month after the NATO mobilization, but it does not clarify whether this ‘credible deterrence will succeed or whether Russia will challenge it in the field.

German Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon
File Image: German Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon

Germany has recently announced a new military exercise using armored and infantry divisions in late April 2024 in Poland and Lithuania. Both these countries are on the flanks of the Suwałki Gap.

Whether Russia would take the first steps by mobilizing in February 2024 will perhaps determine whether this paper has military significance.

Several analysts, however, believe that this is not so much a war game as an effort from Berlin to tell Russia that they are preparing, to tell the central Europeans that they need to wake up to such threats, and clearly message the people of Germany to understand the seriousness of the continuing Ukraine crisis.

There is a recognition that the Ukraine war has not gone as anticipated, and the inability to curb Russian ambitions is evident.

Zeitenwende and the resultant investments in the German military-industrial complex require at least five years to prepare for another major conflict and would also need a draft of young Germans into the military, which they are quite unprepared for.

This leaked document perhaps prepares the ground for people to understand that these are now real priorities for the German government.

  • Gurjit Singh is a former Ambassador to Germany, Indonesia, Ethiopia, ASEAN, and the African Union Chair, CII Task Force on Trilateral Cooperation in Africa, Professor, IIT Indore.
  • The author tweets at @AmbGurjitSingh
  • Follow EurAsian Times on Google News