What not long ago seemed like a bad dream from the past is today a reality. The Kremlin is threatening NATO with invasion.

Rapeseed blooms in the fields between Geisa and Rastdorf. In the April warmth, the air in the German countryside barely moves, a car passes less than every twenty minutes on the local road. It's hard to believe that 40 years ago the Third World War was about to break out in this idyllic place.

West Germany's Ratsdorf and the East German town of Geisa were separated by a high wall, entanglements and traps set for those trying to escape the so-called "peace loving world of true socialism". This barrier was constantly guarded by soldiers in the uniforms of the East German National People's Army and by US Army tanks and armored transporters that stood on its opposite side. West Germany’s Bundeswehr soldiers were not allowed in the area, because of the risk that they would be provoked by the communists and start shooting them.

Kreml Fot. REUTERS/Marina Lystseva

The infamous Iron Curtain at this point crossed a place known as the Fulda Gap. This is a route used since ancient times, leading from Thuringia to the German lands along the rivers Rhine and Main. During the Cold War, the Fulda Gap was the shortest route from East Germany to Frankfurt, and its huge airport, West Germany's financial center, and a key NATO logistics hub in Western Europe. If the Warsaw Pact, according to the plans that had been plotted in Moscow since the late 1940s, had attacked the West, the main offensive would have followed this route.

This was clear to NATO military planners. The Americans held thousands of soldiers in Fulda Gap, who knew every square meter of the terrain they were to defend. Special shafts were installed beneath the roads in order to prepare points to install nuclear mines. US artillerymen practiced the use of nuclear munitions. Warsaw Pact generals assumed that they would use weapons of mass destruction from the first minutes of the Third World War. NATO generals were ready to respond symmetrically. The columns of tanks and armored personnel carriers encroaching from the east were to be stopped by atomic fire. The Germans living in the area were stocking up on poison pills, that they intended to take if war broke out. Suicide seemed to be better than long suffering from radiation sickness...

- Are we in danger of war with Russia? - I have recently asked Prime Minister Donald Tusk. And I got a direct answer: - I hear this question everywhere. What is most worrying now is that literally any scenario is possible. We haven't had such a situation since 1945. - replied the head of the Polish government and urged Europeans to mentally get used to the fact that we are living in the pre-war era. And to arm ourselves.

Today's Fulda Gap is located 250 kilometers northeast of Warsaw close to the city of Suwałki. Suwałki Gap is a 70-kilometer-long strip of land separating Poland from Lithuania and, at the same time, Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast from Belarus, which is now a quasi-colony of Russia. If Putin decided to go to war with NATO, probably Russia would strike the Baltics and this is where he would go to cut Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia off from their allies. The Suwałki Gap would be defended by Poles and Lithuanians, Americans and Germans. I don't want to enter into speculation about how far the Russians would be willing to go. I will only quote Donald Tusk: any scenario is possible and one should be ready for it.

The conflict with Russia has not been going on for three years, since Putin criminally decided to invade Ukraine. It started with the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. Or perhaps its beginning should be counted from the winter of 2009 when Russia began conducting energy blackmail by turning off half of Europe's gas taps? Or from 2007, when Russian hackers launched a massive cyberattack against Estonia? It's a pity that politicians at the time lacked imagination, that it didn't occur to them that Putin, who was cherished in Berlin, Paris, Prague, and Budapest, would become a war criminal along the lines of the brutal Soviet leaders from the 20th century.

The good old times are over. We have to be ready. Not just for war, but for a Russian hybrid, cyberattack. An open conflict with Russia could involve energy sources, it could take place in the Arctic or space.

"Gazeta Wyborcza", the Slovak daily "Sme", the Hungarian portal 444.hu, the Romanian Press One and the investigative portal Bellingcat, with the support of the European Commission, created the "The Eastern Front Initiative" consortium. We have decided to explore this issue intensively and describe to you the key issues concerning our security. Not to scare you, but to equip you with knowledge to help you get used to a situation that seemed unimaginable only a decade ago.

We will publish the articles in English at https://easternfrontier.eu/


This article was written in the framework of The Eastern Frontier Initiative (TEFI) project. TEFI is a collaboration of independent publishers from Central and Eastern Europe, to foster common thinking and cooperation on European security issues in the region. The project aims to promote knowledge sharing in the European press and contribute to a more resilient European democracy.

Members of the consortium are 444 (Hungary), Gazeta Wyborcza (Poland), SME (Slovakia), PressOne (Romania), and Bellingcat (The Netherlands).

The TEFI project is co-financed by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor EACEA can be held responsible for them.