I stopped watching apocalyptic movies about nuclear war years ago because they were the closest thing to having a perpetual nightmare. The scenes were so disturbing that I could not get them out of my mind. To this day, the nuclear detonations in Threads and The Day After are literally seared into my memory. Both movies showed the effect of a nuclear war on cities. In The Day After, Kansas City got a starring role as an epicenter for obliteration. In Threads, I can still recall a mushroom cloud rising over Sheffield. Then a few minutes later, a second flash melted much of the city. Kansas City and Sheffield were likely selected as the setting for a nuclear apocalypse to ensure the horror would hit home with viewers. The message was clear, if a nuclear strike could destroy these cities in the heartlands of America and the United Kingdom, then they could certainly destroy hundreds of other cities, one of which most viewers were living in or around.
Another Crisis – Border Tensions
Since history has been recorded, the end of the world has been predicted countless times. Personally, I do not think the world is going to end anytime soon, but humanity just might if it is not careful. There have been so many close calls since the nuclear age began in 1945, that it is a miracle humanity has escaped the detonation of a nuclear device in wartime for the past seventy-seven years. Fears of a nuclear war have been a rising concern ever since Russia invaded Ukraine four months ago. The chance of a conventional war escalating into a nuclear one as Russia and NATO get entangled in Ukraine will continue to be a distinct possibility, one that cannot be taken seriously enough. If such a war were to occur, I doubt the flashpoint would be any of the usual suspects. Kyiv or the Donbas, Moscow or Washington, London, Paris and Berlin are much too obvious. Instead, it might happen at a place few have heard of. A place like the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. Perhaps a disagreement would begin right along its border, maybe at a town like Kybartai in the southwestern extremity of Lithuania. This is improbable enough to be plausible.
The hypothetical scenario involving Kaliningrad and Kybartai is not as farfetched an idea as it sounds. In the past two weeks this area has become a flashpoint. That is because Lithuania has begun implementing checks for sanctioned materials and goods on Russian trains that transit through its territory to Kaliningrad. Some of these materials and goods are banned from being transported across the borders of European Union member states. The checks have angered the Russians who have promised that there will be serious consequences for Lithuania. The Lithuanians are standing their ground, supported by a decision from the European Commission that they are well within their rights to take this action. In turn, the Commission is working to find a way to negotiate a way out of this crisis before it further exacerbates tensions between Russia and the European Union.
Sometimes a small crisis has a way of encapsulating a much bigger problem. In this case, the European Union and its member states are serious about using sanctions as a tool to stop Russian aggression in Ukraine. This sets up a potential clash. The standoff at the border between Kybartai and Kaliningrad is being used to send a message of strength to Russia. This could lead the Russia to take matters into their own hands militarily to force through their goods to Kaliningrad. This would be tantamount to a declaration of war on NATO and the European Union, since Lithuania is a member of both organizations. Kaliningrad bristles with weapons. The exclave is an outpost of Russian militarism, armed to the teeth. The weapons include Iskander missiles that can be armed with nuclear warheads. Vladimir Putin’s paranoia gives rise to his belief that NATO deliberately infringes upon what he perceives as Russia’s sphere of influence. Any miscommunications and misjudgments on Kaliningrad’s border with Lithuania could end with catastrophic results.
Whirlwind of History – Touched By Fire
For a place that might best be associated with the middle of nowhere, Kybartai has a strange way of finding itself in the eye of the European storm. This nondescript town on the fringes of Lithuania has a deeply conflicted history. The making of modern Kybartai has been informed by a tug of war between East and West. It became more than the proverbial wide spot in the road when the Warsaw to St. Petersburg railway was built through it in 1861. That connection also put it in the sights of armies that have passed through it periodically with destructive results. Since the 20th century began. Kybartai has been part of the Russian Empire and Interwar Lithuania, occupied by Nazi German forces, taken over by the Soviet Union and now part of Lithuania.
The whirlwind of history has periodically touched down on a town that is most recognizable for not being recognizable at all. Kybartai has suffered near destruction, not once but twice, due to fighting in the First and Second World Wars. Something similar or much worse could threaten it in the future. Kybartai straddles a geopolitical fault line between Lithuania and Russia, NATO and Russia, the European Union and Russia. In geopolitics, location is everything. Paradoxically, Kybartai finds itself on the fringes of Europe and at the center of matters. No one could possibly imagine that nondescript Kybartai might be a starting point for World War III, but truth is often stranger than fiction and history stranger still. Judging by Kybartai’s past its centrality to a potential future conflict should not be that surprising.
Ground Zeros – Conflicted Settings
Will the end of civilization as we know it start in Kybartai? Almost certainly not, but anonymous places like it are scattered all along the borders between NATO member states and Russia. More than a thousand flashpoints between Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania with Russia are possible ground zeros for conflict. Kybartai is one of these places and as such worth keeping a close eye on. World War III could start here or maybe it already has and it took trains stopped at the Lithuanian border for people to realize it. Kybartai will never have a starring role in one of those nuclear war movies, but it could end up with something much worse, the real thing.
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