As the world's attention shifts away from Ukraine towards Israel and Gaza, NATO member countries situated along the eastern frontier of the Alliance are increasingly focused on Russia and bolstering their presence in what is deemed the Alliance's "most exposed" region, as reported by Newsweek.
Lithuania, Poland, and other NATO nations in close proximity to Russia and Belarus are intensifying their defensive measures, with a particular emphasis on safeguarding the disputed Suvalki Gap, according to Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas in an interview with Newsweek.
The Suvalki Gap, a narrow strip of territory adjacent to the Polish-Lithuanian border that links Belarus to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, remains a persistent concern in Eastern Europe. Given the strong Ukraine-Poland-Lithuania alliance and Belarus' alignment with Russia, the Suvalki Gap has at times been characterized as a vulnerability within NATO's security framework, making it a focal point for the Alliance's fortified border.
"Together with our allies, we are creating a set of capabilities and plans to defend every inch of NATO territory," Anusauskas said. Lithuania is investing in its armed forces and NATO's supply and presence near the gap, he added, although the country's strategically important belt “will remain a fundamental challenge.
"Geographically speaking, the Baltic states remain the most exposed of the entire NATO territory, which requires special measures to ensure credible deterrence and defense," Anusauskas explained.
Poland emphasizing its commitment to securing the eastern
Russia strategically utilized Belarus as a launching pad for its invasion of Ukraine two decades ago, sparking renewed concerns about the Suvalki Gap earlier this year when exiled Wagner mercenaries congregated at Belarusian bases in its vicinity.
In the backdrop of escalating tensions involving Belarus, Poland, and Lithuania, a Russian legislator disclosed on state media that Wagner's forces might be present in Belarus with the intent to seize control of the Suvalki Gap.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko mentioned in mid-July that the Wagner mercenaries, who entered Belarus after departing from Russia, harbored desires to head "westward" toward the Polish border. Poland has substantially bolstered its military presence near the Suvalki Gap, emphasizing its commitment to securing the eastern flank.
Lithuania's Ministry of Defense also confirmed in late July that they were actively monitoring the activities of Russian mercenaries in the Suvalki Gap region.