Poland Rolls Out Plans for Fortifications Along its Border With Russia and Belarus

Polish military leaders speak about a program to strengthen the defense of Poland's borders.
Polish armed forces' Chief of Staff. Gen Wieslaw Kukula, right, and Deputy Defense Minister Cezary Tomczyk, second right, speak about a program of strengthening the defense of NATO'S eastern flank in Warsaw, Poland, Monday, May, 27, 2024, during a presentation of a program to upgrade the security of Poland's border with Russia and Belarus, which is also European Union's eastern border. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Defense officials in NATO member Poland on Monday presented a plan to strengthen anti-drone surveillance and on-ground military defense through a system of fortifications and barriers along about 700 kilometers (430 miles) of its eastern border with Russia and Russian ally Belarus.

The government says Poland, which supports neighboring Ukraine in its defense against Russia’s aggression, is being targeted by hostile actions from Russia and Belarus. They include cyberattacks, attempted arson and migrants being pushed illegally across the border, which officials describe as intended to destabilize the European Union, of which Poland is a member.

The government is also making preparations in the case of a military attack, while stressing the primary role of deterrence.

    The government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk has planned a range of security measures including in cyberspace, as well as a more than $2.5 billion investment in strengthening surveillance, deterrence and defense along the eastern border, a system known as Shield-East that is to be completed in 2028. Work on it has started, officials said.

    “The goal of the shield is to protect the territory of Poland, hamper the mobility of our adversary's troops while making such mobility easier for our own troops and to protect civilians,” Defense Minister Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz said at a news conference, adding that local communities understand the need for such steps.

    The shield will include “all kinds of fortifications, barriers, monitoring of the air space on every level and upgrading the existing systems,” and will be integrated with the defense system across the country, Kosiniak-Kamysz said.

    He stressed it was the biggest program to strengthen NATO's eastern flank since 1945, when World War II ended.

    Chief of Staff Gen. Wiesław Kukuła said it will include a network of state-of-the-art anti-drone monitoring and defense towers, anti-tank barriers and ditches, bunkers and shelters, as well as space for potential mine fields. He stressed their primary role is to deter any potential aggressor.

    The officials said the system will be part of a regional defense infrastructure built jointly with the Baltic states — Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — that are also on NATO's eastern flank. The funding will come from the government, as Poland spends over 4% of its GDP on defense, but help will also be sought from the EU because the system will also strengthen the eastern border of the 27-member bloc, they said.

    Some observers noted that the much-publicized presentation came two weeks ahead of elections to the European Parliament, where Poland, a nation of some 38 million, holds 52 seats, and could be partly seen as a campaign element for the government that took office in December. The opposition also supports strengthening Poland’s defense.

    Poland’s previous right-wing government built a $400 million wall on the border with Belarus to halt a massive inflow of migrants that began to be pushed from that direction in 2021. The current pro-EU government says that needs to be strengthened, but will be a separate project from Shield-East.

    The three Baltic states were once part of the Soviet Union, while Poland was a satellite state before the 1990s. Moscow still regards the area as within its sphere of interest. To its east, Poland borders Russia's exclave of Kaliningrad, as well as NATO ally Lithiania, Moscow's ally Belarus, and Ukraine.

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