As attempts to illegally cross the border from Belarus into Latvia continue to surge, Latvia's State Border Guard (VRS) has called in members of the armed forces for backup and asked the government to shut down the Silene border checkpoint in the country's southeast.
The increasingly tense situation at the Latvian-Russian border has led the VRS to conclude that it's precisely Latvia that is currently Belarus' primary destination for illegal immigration. A new record was set Sunday, when 256 people were turned back at the Latvian border, bringing the total for the week to nearly 900 and for the year to date to more than 7,800 people.
According to Latvian border guard chiefs, it's difficult to deter the migrants as they move in large groups of 50-60 people. The majority of them attempt to cross into Latvia in places where there is no border fence, such as at a narrow river crossing, but they also attempt to cross barbed wire as well. The Belarusian side simply drops people off right at the barbed wire delineating the Latvian border and won't let them back into Belarus anymore.
Latvia is now mustering increased forces at its border with Belarus. The police have already come to help the VRS, but members of the Latvian National Armed Forces (NBS) together with participants in one of the biggest defense exercises in Latvian history are also arriving at the border, and Latvia has asked border guards from Lithuania for help as well.
In order to more effectively protect its border, Estonia's southern neighbor is now considering shutting down its Silene border checkpoint. Should they opt to go that route, going forward, it will only be possible to cross the Latvian-Belarusian border at one remaining checkpoint — at Paternieki, to the east of Silene.
"The proposal to close the Silene border point is needed as a signal to the Belarusian regime that travel and normal relations cannot be maintained when hybrid attacks are being directed against Latvia and infrastructure is being damaged — with recent cases of holes cut in border fences," Latvian public broadcaster LSM wrote Tuesday.
LSM reported that Latvia, Lithuania and Poland have also signaled that should the situation continue to deteriorate, they reserve the right to completely close their borders with Belarus.
Construction of the Latvan-Belarusian border is now slated to receive more state funding, however, and will now receive more state funding, however, and a greater push.
Until now, the border project has been mired in numerous investigations, corruption allegations and criminal cases, making both contracting entities and contractors themselves cautious. Latvia quickly and urgently needs a border fence and border surveillance equipment, however.
On a visit to the eastern border, Latvian President Edgars Rinkevics, who took office in July, commented that border plans are considered and reconsidered repeatedly, but construction of the border itself isn't progressing.
Editor: Aili Vahtla