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19th Sep 2020

Watchtowers on Poland-Russia border 'not linked' to Ukraine conflict

  • Kaliningrad is one of Russia's poorest regions (Photo: Christoph)

Poland says its plan to build watchtowers on its border with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad is not linked to the Ukraine crisis.

Joanna Rokicka, a spokeswoman for the Polish Border Guard, told EUobserver on Tuesday (7 April) that the scheme, which is part-funded by the European Commission, was agreed “quite some time ago, before the events in Ukraine”.

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“We are building the towers purely for migration-control purposes. It’s not designed to prevent any situation linked to the current crisis in Ukraine”.

A spokesman for the Polish foreign ministry, who asked to remain anonymous, added: “Small-border traffic between Poland and Kaliningrad is important, with almost 7 million Polish and Russian crossings over the green line each year”.

“This is designed to prevent illegal crossings and it’s not linked to the current situation in Ukraine”.

The six towers are to be erected on the Polish side of the 200km-long border and to begin work in June.

The 35-metre to 50-metre high structures are to be highly visible and to be mounted with surveillance equipment that will transmit information around the clock to border guard stations in Poland's Warminski-Mazurski district.

They will cost €3.5 million.

But 75 percent of the money comes from the External Borders Fund, a European Commission instrument worth €1.8 billion over the past seven years. The fund is designed to help secure the EU’s passport-free Schengen Area, which Poland joined in 2007.

Izabella Cooper, a spokeswoman for Frontex, the EU’s Warsaw-based border control agency, said Frontex is not involved because it doesn’t pay for infrastructure.

She added that: “at the moment, we don’t see a significant increase in irregular migration flows along the Kaliningrad border”.

The high number of Poland-Kaliningrad crossings comes after Poland and Russia, in 2012, signed a treaty on visa-free travel covering the exclave, which is home to 950,000 people, and two districts in northern Poland.

Heightened tension in the region has seen Russia install batteries of surface-to-surface “Iskander” missiles in Kaliningrad, which are capable of hitting Warsaw.

It has also seen Poland mobilise thousands of reservists and a sharp increase in Russian and Nato military drills.

Russia supplies Kaliningrad primarily via Lithuania.

But Andrius Kubilius, Lithuania’s former prime minister, last month told Newsweek magazine the transit traffic could be halted if the Ukraine crisis escalates beyond Ukrainian borders.

“If the Russians want a pretext to launch a new invasion, the transit to Kaliningrad would be a useful excuse”, he said.

“They have enough fantasy to try something different than Crimea”, he added, alluding to concern that Russia could stage provocations in the Baltic region on the model of its covert invasion of the Ukrainian peninsula last year.

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