The war in Ukraine has put NATO on guard, and especially to the member countries that were once part of the USSR or were in the Soviet orbit. The influence of Moscow is very recent and they fear an open confrontation with Russia.
One such territory is Suwalki, a 60-mile strip of land on the border between Lithuania and Poland. It shares a name with a nearby Polish city and it is a strategic location, as it is the only land communication route between the Baltic countries and the rest of Europe. It also forms the distance that separates the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad – very important militarily for the Kremlin – from Belarus, a country allied with Moscow.
A two-way highway, parallel to the border between Lithuania and Poland, gradually brings us closer to Russian territory. Along the way, hardly any cars or people are seen, only farms and cattle; Y in that quiet world we find the town of Zytkiejmyin northern Poland, where its neighbors live with one concern: they are just one kilometer from the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
“We are afraid, all of us, but, what can we do?”, tells TVE Arthur, a resident of the place, who translates into English what another of the townspeople has to say.
“They will, of course they will. It’s a matter of time”, says the second neighbor, referring to a possible invasion by Russia. Since the war in Ukraine began, tension has multiplied in the area.
Apparent normality in the face of fear of Russia
In this city, which belongs to Poland, your mayor has given an order not to talk about this issue. They want to convey an image of normality, of a safe city, but not all their neighbors think the same.
“Putin is Putin and anything can happen,” says one of the residents. “A few months ago we could not imagine a war in Ukraine,” he adds.
Suwalki is not a small town, it has 70,000 inhabitants and in its streets, for the first time, we hear the word NATO: “I think NATO will help us, I feel safe,” a woman told the TVE cameras.
However, the reality is that the Atlantic Alliance has spent years wondering how to protect the area. It knows very well that it is a critical point, due to its geographical location, in front of it is Kaliningrad, a highly militarized Russian territory, with nuclear-capable missiles.
Civilian militias train before a possible attack in Lithuania
In Lithuania, more than 10,000 civilians are organized in militias, such as the Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union. It is precisely near the border with Russia where they are most alert. “If we have any conflict, we are very close, fifteen or twenty minutes”, a rifleman tells TVE while pointing out the distances on a map.
All of them they are volunteers and collaborate with the government. Before the war in Ukraine, they received two million euros from the State, now they receive four and next year they will receive 30.
“It is not a political organization, we are very structured with this, we are responsible citizens“, explains the commander, who strives again and again to distance himself from any Nazi link. “We do not have radical ideas, we are not radical people.”
Since the invasion of Ukraine, hundreds of citizens have joined the militias. That’s what Ineta, a 43-year-old farm woman who, she says, wants to “know what to do” in the event of an attack, has done.
Sharuma, a Lithuanian man who is a member of these militias, says that he has five weapons in his house and that he has been training for three years so as not to fail if the time comes: “I don’t think Russia is stupid enough to attack NATObut, but… no one expected them to attack Ukraine either,” says Sharuma.
In that but, in that just in case, is the tension that they live in the corridor of Suwalki.