Minister of the Interior Kristian Jaani (Center) and Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab (Center) confirmed that Estonia is well prepared for a potential migration situation and has developed action plans that correspond to threat levels.
Jaani said the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) has prepared three separate action plans that will be implemented based on the level of crisis on the border.
"I have also taken these action plans to the government and the government has agreed in principle that if these scenarios must be implemented, there is funding for it, because we certainly need more funds if we need to close the border, for example," said Jaani.
"We today have the opportunity to prepare for possible scenarios thanks to what has happened on the border of Lithuania and Belarus for a long time. The PPA, along with multiple partners, has drawn up an emergency plan, which concerns a possible mass influx of people illegally entering Estonia's borders," the interior minister added.
He said the most extreme situation would be if Estonia needed to close its border with Latvia.
Public administration minister Jaak Aab echoed Jaani's words, telling ERR on Wednesday that the government has given PPA the right to automatically implement necessary actions if a crisis were to erupt and the action plans call for action.
"We cannot be surprised by it. We have made all the preparations necessary, the respective structures have played these situations through," Aab noted.
Aab: Local municipalities have been notified
Commenting on a statement made by the Association of Estonian Cities and Municipalities, in which local municipality representatives expressed concern over the possible burden of a migration crisis on local municipalities, Aab said local municipalities, who would be hit first by a migration crisis, have been informed and should now know what to do.
He noted that interior minister Kristian Jaani should also meet with local municipality heads in the near future to discuss preparations and security.
Jaani: Estonia can guard its border well
Kristian Jaani confirmed that Estonia is capable of protecting its borders well, despite having begun works on the eastern border recently with the first fifth of the new border infrastructure set to be completed in the spring of 2023.
"Estonia's ability to guard its borders is very good today! The Estonian external border is well guarded," Jaani told ERR. He said Estonia protects its border with people and technical measures, but is also actively developing border infrastructure in southeastern Estonia.
"And it is positive that border construction is currently ongoing, just at this moment. If we look at Lithuania's situation on the border with Belarus, active construction is also protecting the border in its own way," the interior minister said.
Jaani said the border development is going according to plan. "The development has progressed in the rhythm it was planned. We are currently at Võru County, building a 23-kilometer border section. The goal is to complete it by 2023. And the entire border development should be ready by 2026," the interior minister said, adding that the funding is secured and construction is active.
"I was there as an auxiliary police officer last week, patrolling and monitoring how the border construction is going. I can truly say that the border development is active, as it was eventually planned," Jaani noted.
Border development taking place on fifth of land border
According to data from the interior ministry, Estonia has 338 kilometers of shared borders with Russia, of which 76 kilometers are along the Narva River and 127 kilometers on Lake Peipus (Peipsi järv). That leaves 135 kilometers of land borders, largely located on uneven terrain in the middle of forests.
The southeastern border infrastructure development will span 115 kilometers, since most of the border is on water bodies, which act as a natural barrier.
The border line of southeast Estonia is mostly cleaned of bushes, Estonian border poles have been placed and construction has been ongoing for about a year. A surveillance system will also be implemented on the new border, border guards will also be on guard to react to any possible situations.
The land border development is divided into five phases, the first of which is 23.5 kilometers in length, has been in development since last summer and should be ready by spring of 2023. The interior minister said border construction was started in the sections PPA has seen the most illegal border crossings in.
A construction tender has been signed for a 39.5-kilometer section, set to be completed in the spring of 2025. Another procurement has been announced with plans to sign by the end of this year. The entire land border is set to be completed by the end of 2026.
Border infrastructure should avoid Lithuania-like situation
Interior minister Jaani confirmed that the current border development should help Estonia avoid a similar situation to that of the Lithuania-Belarus border, where migrants sent away by Belarus are just walking into the southernmost Baltic country.
"The border infrastructure being developed in Estonia, including the delay fence, is solid and it will not be too easy to cross. Security equipment and other measures will play a significantly larger role aside physical barriers in the future, helping discover illegal border crossings before anyone even attempts to go over or through the fence," Jaani said.
"Once the border is constructed, it will certainly give better options in the future to discover and avoid mass migration," the minister added.
"From a border guard perspective, developing the border means they will have a much easier time discovering, avoiding and reacting to any border crossing cases. Until now, they lacked access roads, border guards had to patrol the border areas while up to their eyes in bushes or up to their knees in bogs," the interior minister said.
Jaani added that border guards can access the border in the future with ATVs and regular cars and that patrols have sufficient visibility of the entire border to notice anything illegal going on.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste