Lithuania builds Russian border fence as Nato boosts Baltic defences
‘We see this as a threat’ Kremlin says as Poland welcomes US troops
Chief of Defence of Lithuania Jonas Vytautas Zukas: the fence is expected to stretch for130km along the border with Kaliningrad. Photograph: Ints Kalnins/Reuters
The fence is expected to be two metres high and stretch for some 130km along the Baltic state’s border with Kaliningrad, a heavily militarised Russian exclave sandwiched between EU and Nato members Poland and Lithuania.
Kaliningrad is home to a major Russian naval base and Moscow recently deployed nuclear-capable Iskander missiles and powerful S-400 rockets to the province, as the Kremlin and Nato step up military activity around the Baltic Sea.
“Such a fence will not stop tanks or other military equipment, but it will make illegal crossings harder,” said Lithuanian interior minister Eimutis Misiunas.
“As we evaluate the geopolitical threats, the Russian geopolitical threats, Lithuanian politicians have expressed their will that we need to have a physical barrier with such a country,” he added.
The Baltic states have been particularly alarmed by Russia’s use of “little green men” – soldiers without identifying insignia – in Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and in the continuing conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Infiltration by unidentified gunmen is one of the so-called hybrid threats that Russia allegedly poses to its neighbours, along with hacking, disinformation, use of pro-Moscow political and civil society groups and a host of other elements.
Poland and the Baltic states are strengthening their defences against these perceived dangers, while the US and other Nato members send troops to the region to provide a deterrent against any more conventional form of Russian aggression.
Last Saturday, Polish leaders welcomed a US armoured brigade of some 3,500 soldiers and scores of tanks, artillery pieces and other heavy weaponry.
Those US soldiers will take part in exercises in several central European countries, and four multinational Nato battalions of about 1,000 troops – led by the US, Canada, Germany and the UK – will be deployed to Poland and the Baltic states.
“We have waited for you for a very long time,” Polish defence minister Antoni Macierewicz told the US troops at a ceremony in the western town of Zagan.
“We waited for decades, sometimes feeling we had been left alone, sometimes almost losing hope, sometimes feeling that we were the only one who protected civilisation from aggression that came from the east.”
Russia insists that it poses no threat to its neighbours, and is only increasing its own military exercises and boosting its weaponry in Kaliningrad and annexed Crimea in response to the danger it sees emanating from Nato.
“We see this as a threat. These actions pose a threat to our interests and security,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said of the arrival of the US forces.
He said Russia was particularly alarmed “when a third country is beefing up its military presence along our borders with Europe. And this is not even a European country.”
Mr Peskov also said Russia agreed with comments from US president-elect Donald Trump that Nato was “obsolete”.