Lithuania to build fence along border with Russia's Kaliningrad

VILNIUS (Reuters) - Lithuania plans to build a two-meter high wire fence along its border with the Russian region of Kaliningrad, its interior minister said on Tuesday, amid continued tensions between Moscow and the Baltic states, which are members of NATO.

Eimutis Misiunas acknowledged that such a fence would provide little defense against a full-blown military assault but said it underscored Lithuanians’ concerns about a more assertive Russia and could also help prevent lesser cross-border incursions.

“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 (as Russia),” Misiunas told Reuters.

“Such a fence will not stop tanks or other military equipment, but it will make illegal crossings harder”, said Misiunas.

He cited the example of an Estonian security official detained by Russia in 2014, sentenced to 15 years hard labor and freed in 2015 in a prisoner exchange.

Russia said the official, Eston Kohver, had been caught on its territory, while Estonia said he had been abducted on its side of the border.

The Baltic republics, which won independence from Moscow in 1991 but remain home to ethnic Russian minorities, are also mindful that Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014 by first sending soldiers in unmarked uniforms and civilian clothes. They came to be known as the “little green men”.

Lithuania has staged military exercises that simulated such a scenario involving undercover “little green men”.

The new fence, which will cost 3.6 million euros and is due to be completed this year, will cover some 50 km of the border not already protected by lakes, rivers and swamps.

Kaliningrad, on the Baltic Sea, is the only Russian territory bordering Lithuania, whose eastern neighbor is Belarus.

Russia said in October that as part of routine drills it had moved ballistic nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles to Kaliningrad and deployed its S-400 air missile defense system there.

Lithuania, which joined the European Union and NATO in 2004, has focused until now on fortifying its long border with Belarus, which sees many more attempted illegal crossings than the Kaliningrad frontier.

The announcement of the fence plan comes in a week when Donald Trump is set to be inaugurated as U.S. president. During the election campaign Trump alarmed the Baltic states and other European allies by casting doubt on the U.S. commitment to NATO and praising Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday the deployment of NATO troops in the Baltic states was a bad idea.

Reporting By Andrius Sytas; Editing by Gareth Jones