A “barbed wire curtain” rises in Europe amid war in Ukraine


WARSAW, Poland — The long border between Finland and Russia runs through thick forests and is marked only by wooden posts with low fences meant to stop stray cattle. Soon, a stronger, higher fence will be erected on parts of the frontier.

Earlier this month, Polish soldiers began laying coils of razor wire on the border with Kaliningrad, a part of Russian territory separated from the country and wedged between Poland and Lithuania. Cameras and an electronic monitoring system also will be installed on the area that once was guarded only by occasional patrols of border guards.

The fall of the Berlin Wall more than 30 years ago symbolized hope for cooperation with Moscow. Now, Russia’s war in Ukraine has ushered in a new era of confrontation in Europe — and the rise of new barriers of steel, concrete and barbed wire. These, however, are being built by the West.

“The Iron Curtain is gone, but the ‘barbed wire curtain’ is now unfortunately becoming the reality for much of Europe,” said Klaus Dodds, a professor of geopolitics at Royal Holloway, University of London. “The optimism that we had in Europe after 1989 is very much now gone.”

Fear and division have replaced the euphoria when Germans danced atop the Berlin Wall and broke off chunks of the barrier erected in 1961 by Communist leaders. It stretched for 155 kilometers (nearly 100 miles), encircling West Berlin until 1989, when East German authorities opened crossings following mass protests. Within a year, East and West Germany were reunited.

Some countries in the European Union began building border fences as a response to more than 1 million refugees and other migrants entering southern Europe from the Middle East and Africa in 2015 alone. In 2015 and 2016, Russia ushered thousands of asylum-seekers, also mostly from the Middle East, to border checkpoints in northern Finland.

When relations with Belarus deteriorated after its authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko was declared the winner of the 2020 election widely seen as fraudulent, the government in Minsk sent thousands of migrants across the EU’s frontiers in what Dodds called “hybrid warfare.” In response, Poland and Lithuania erected walls along their borders with Belarus.

Michal Baranowski, head of the Warsaw office of the German Marshal Fund think tank, said most security analysts believe Belarus coordinated its effort with Moscow, “in effect destabilizing our borders ahead of war in Ukraine.”

Fearing another migration crisis as a response to sanctions against Moscow because of the nearly nine-month war in Ukraine, European leaders have begun hardening their borders.

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced plans to fortify parts of her country’s 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) border — the longest with any EU member. Moscow has threatened “serious military-political consequences” against Finland and Sweden for seeking to join NATO, and Marin said the fortifications would help defend the nation against the “hybrid threat” of possible large-scale and irregular migration orchestrated by the Kremlin.


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