The Suwalki Gap is a territorial designation in the tri-border area between Poland, Lithuania and Russia. On a short section, the Suwalki Gap also borders Belarus. The Germans speak of the Suwalki Lücke or Suwalki Korridor, in Poland the area is called Przesmyk Suwalski. The Suwalki Gap is sometimes referred to as the Suwalki Corridor.
Where exactly is the Suwalki gap located?
The Suwalki Gap is located in its complete extension on Polish territory. The Suwalki Gap includes the districts of Suwałki, Augustów and Sejny. Thus, the Suwalki Gap is a contiguous area in the extreme northeast of Poland, consisting of the just mentioned towns and surrounding villages, communes and landscape areas. The length of the Suwalki corridor is about 100 kilometers, if measured on the ground. If the corresponding air line is taken for measurement, the Suwalki Gap comes to a length of exactly 65.4 kilometers. At the southern tip of the Suwalki corridor lies Belarusian territory. At the northern tip is the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, which belongs to Russia but is not connected to the rest of the Russian territory. Finally, to the left and right of the Suwalki Gap, the two states of Lithuania and Poland can be discerned.
What is the significance of the Suwalki Gap in international terms?
The Suwalki Gap has primarily a military significance. This can be explained by the location of the territory on which the Suwalki Gap is situated. Besides Lithuania and Poland, the Suwalki Gap shares its borders with Belarus and Russia. This means that here two EU countries, Poland and Lithuania, border the two former Soviet countries, Russia and Belarus. Belarus and Russia continue to act as close partners and allies. The former Eastern bloc states of Lithuania and Poland, on the other hand, emancipated themselves from the former Soviet Union and its successor state Russia after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Politically, Belarus and Russia repeatedly provide potential for conflict with surrounding states. Often among them are those that once belonged to the Soviet empire, such as Ukraine. That is why the Suwalki corridor is always in focus from the Western point of view. Western states fear that Belarus and Russia might try to attack and capture the Suwalki Gap.
Why would an occupation of the Suwalki Gap by Russia or Belarus be so negative for the West?
Lithuania and Poland are not only members of the European Union, but also of the military and defense alliance NATO. This means that in the event of an attack from the east, they could hope for military support from other EU and NATO countries in the event of a crisis. However, the Suwalki Gap should also be understood as a symbol of the division of the world into a Western and an Eastern bloc. If the Suwalki Gap had been occupied by the eastern states of Russia and Belarus, this would mean that the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which lie behind this corridor, would be territorially cut off from their western allies. It would then also be unclear whether, in the event of war or conflict, supplies such as food and medicine, as well as military material, could continue to be transported from the West to these states. In the event of an emergency, this would make it easier for the East to militarily seize the Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia and subsequently occupy them.
How does the West deal with the threats around the Suwalki Gap?
The USA, a NATO partner, is particularly concerned about the stability of the Suwalki Gap. The U.S. believes that the probability of the Suwalki Gap becoming a bone of contention between East and West is high. They do not only see the danger that the Suwalki Gap itself could be attacked. In the event of a conflict between the Russians or Belarusians and the Lithuanians, Latvians or Estonians, they see it as extremely likely that the Suwalki Gap will be attacked quickly for strategic reasons in order to occupy it. This would quickly achieve the eastern states‘ assumed goal of cutting off the Baltic states of Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia from the West and from supplies. As a result, the USA, Canada, Germany and Great Britain have repeatedly sought to secure the area around the Suwalki Gap with military forces if necessary. So far, there have been no military confrontations at the Suwalki Gap.