Poland lays razor wire on border with Russia’s Kaliningrad

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish soldiers began laying razor wire Wednesday along Poland’s border with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad after the government ordered the construction of a barrier to prevent what it fears could become another migration crisis.

Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said a recent decision by Russia’s aviation authority to launch flights from the Middle East and North Africa to Kaliningrad led him to reinforce Poland’s 210-kilometer (130-mile) border with Kaliningrad.

“Due to the disturbing information regarding the launch of flights from the Middle East and North Africa to Kaliningrad, I have decided to take measures that will strengthen the security on the Polish border with the Kaliningrad oblast by sealing this border,” Blaszczak said.

Blaszczak said the barrier along the border would be made of three rows of razor wire measuring 2½ meters (eight feet) high and 3 meters (10 feet) wide and feature an electronic monitoring system and cameras. The Polish side also will have a fence to keep animals away from the razor wire.

Before now, the sparsely inhabited border area was patrolled but had no physical barrier.

To the south, Poland’s border with Belarus became the site of a major migration crisis last year, with large numbers of people from the Middle East entering illegally. Polish and other EU leaders accused the Belarusian government — an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin — of masterminding the migration to create chaos and division within the 27-nation bloc.

Poland erected similar rolls of razor wire before building a permanent high steel wall on the border with Belarus, which was completed in June.

Blaszczak, the defense minister, said the government was persuaded to install fencing near Kaliningrad because of Poland’s experience at the Belarus border, where a similar action “prevented a hybrid attack from Belarus or significantly slowed down this attack.”

The chief executive of Khrabrovo Airport in Kaliningrad, Alexander Korytnyi, told Russia’s Interfax news agency on Oct. 3 that the facility would seek to “attract airlines from countries in the Persian Gulf and Asia,” including the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

In the last month, Poland’s Border Guard agency has not detected anyone attempting to enter the country illegally from Kaliningrad, although a few mushroom pickers wandered into the area by mistake, agency spokeswoman Miroslawa Aleksandrowicz told state news agency PAP.

Some in Poland are criticizing the barrier.

Zuzanna Dabrowska, a commentator writing for the conservative daily newpaper Rzeczpospolita, wrote Wednesday that the barrier would be ineffective and a hazard because razor wire is dangerous for animals and people who try to cross it.

She argued that people from the Middle East and Africa were still trying to illegally enter Poland from Belarus despite the border wall.

“The barrier did not scare them away, because they have no safe retreat, pressured by Belarusian border guards,” Dabrowska wrote.

Poland’s government has strongly criticized critics of the Belarus border wall, depicting them as helping those who seek to harm Poland.

The exclave of Kaliningrad, with a population of about 1 million, is the northern part of what used to be the German territory of East Prussia and became part of the Soviet Union after World War II.

It is home to the Baltic Fleet of the Russian Navy and also an industrial center. Seaside dunes and resorts, what’s left of the old Prussian architecture in the city of Kaliningrad, and maritime and amber museums are among the tourist attractions.

Soldiers began laying the razor wire in Wisztyniec, the place where the borders of Poland, Russia and Lithuania meet. Lithuania, like Poland, is a member of both NATO and the European Union.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined Wednesday to comment on the Kaliningrad border barrier, describing it as “a Polish matter.”

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