At the Polish border the past seems inescapable. A discernible weight of history settles all around you, with each historical epoch that lay before us leaving its indelible mark on a nation that has stood the test of time. Hitler’s brutal German troops from the West, the Soviet Red Army from the East, the Polish border has truly seen it all. In the latest episode of intense drama, Polish soldiers have begun laying razor wire along Poland’s border with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad upon orders received by the government. Warsaw is working on erecting a wall in an attempt at sealing off the border, with enduring fears that Moscow is using it as a conduit for illegal migration.
Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak stated that a recent decision made by Russia’s aviation authority to launch flights from the Middle East and North Africa to Kaliningrad prompted he and his governmental colleagues to consider and ultimately reinforce Poland’s 130-mile border with Kaliningrad. Alarmed and perturbed by Russian moves, construction is underway on an 8-foot-high wall structure, along with a 3-meter-deep barrier, with anatomical work on the edifice expected to be completed by the end of 2023. “Due to the disturbing information regarding the launch of flights into Kaliningrad, I have decided to take measures that will strengthen security on the Polish border by sealing it,” said Blaszczak.
Poland’s concerns are not wholly unfounded. Last year, Poland’s eastern border with Belarus became the site of a major migration crisis, with large numbers of people having flown into Belarus from the Middle East, before fortuitously crossing the Polish border to settle in the Central European nation. The illegal nature of such locomotion angered Polish officials, culminating in them and their EU allies accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin – of which the Belarusian regime is a staunch associate – of masterminding swathes of illegal migration as a means of creating internal chaos and division within the 27-nation-strong bloc.
However, not everyone is convinced. Upon consultation with official Polish government data, reliably buttressed by operating border guards, fears of illegal migration from Kaliningrad have seemingly been overplayed. Anna Michalska, a border guard spokesperson, affirmed that “the Polish-Russian border is stable and calm,” before going on to say that “there have been no recorded instances of illegal crossings [of the border].” Zuzanna Dabrowska, a writer for the conservative Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita, complained that the planned border wall would be ineffective as a policy whilst simultaneously pointing out that it will act as a major hazard to people or local wildlife who seek to overcome it.
A great sense of mystique persists surrounding the continued existence of Kaliningrad, with collective confusion stemming from its geographical location, whereby the region is part of Russia yet is wedged in between Poland and Lithuania – two countries part of both the EU and NATO. Possessing a population of about a million, Kaliningrad is the northern slice of what used to be the German territory of East Prussia. Subsequently subsumed by the Soviet Union after World War II, the diminutive region thus came under Russian control. Home to the Baltic Fleet of the Russian Navy and a key industrial centre, Kaliningrad has retained its relative importance despite its illusory insignificant nature. The Oblast even hosted four games at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, with the likes of Croatia, Spain, England, and Belgium having played at the Arena Baltika during the tournament.
On the one hand, Poland’s agitation seems somewhat legitimate. The chief executive of Khrabrovo Airport in Kaliningrad, Alexander Korytnyi, alerted Russia’s Interfax news agency of their plans to “attract airlines from countries in the Persian Gulf and Asia.” Afflicted by previous border issues, Poland does not want to run further risks. But critics say that it’s a problem that has been blown way out of proportion by Polish government officials. As soldiers began laying down the wire, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on the border barrier, willingly abdicating any responsibility, and instead described it as an entirely “Polish matter.”
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