LTV looks at past, present and future of Latvian eastern border

Over the years, the construction of Latvia's eastern border infrastructure has gained the reputation of 'not the most successful project'. Criminal proceedings have been brought in this context, the deadlines have been pushed forward many times, and in the middle of all, there has been a hybrid war developed by the Belarusian regime. When will the eastern border finally be ready? 

Latvian Television's report of August 13 shows that the first stepping-stone for the construction of infrastructure in the east of the country, primarily in Russia's border area, can be considered 2011. At the time, the State hired a number of companies whose task was to make the necessary preparations for the establishment of the national border zone.

However, the process gained momentum in 2015 following the military aggression launched by Russia in the east of Ukraine, which also raised concerns about Latvia's security. In recent years, the number of illegal migrants from third countries who wanted to use Latvia as an interim for further arrival in Europe has also increased. At the end of 2016, an agreement on the construction of a fence on the Belarus border was also reached.

Current Minister for the Interior and former Prime Minister Māris Kučinskis said at the time that other countries within Europe can feel better. “However, we also have our means of guarding the European Union's external border,” Kučinskis said in 2016.

The construction of the Russian border in 2015 was started with an agreement with the road construction company Igate, which also had an agreement on the construction of the Belarus border in 2018.

Everything about and around the project changed in 2019 - a number of charges, officials' detentions, and news of money wasting, led to it being frozen.

The Internal Security Bureau detained Normunds Garbars, former head of the border guard, and two representatives of the builder, Igate, in connection with the construction of the border.

This was followed by a state audit report in 2020 which revealed the illegal use of around €7.5 million in the building of the border. Later that same year, other border guards were detained on suspicion. Part of the persons in these cases are acquitted, part of the case is still pending before the court. Consequently, between 2019 and 2021, the construction of the border had stopped completely.

“Jobs on Latvia-Russia border were stalled in 2019. All this time there was no construction,” said Renārs Griškevičs, Chairman of the State Real Estate (Valsts nekustamie īpašumi, VNĪ) Board.

The border infrastructure came into the spotlight again in summer of 2021 when Belarus deliberately started sending migrants from third countries to the border, thereby creating tensions.

The main responsibility for the construction of the Belarus border was changed at the end off 2021. This role was transferred from the Ministry of the Interior to State Real Estate. It was in 2021 that the first works were finally launched in the border area of Belarus.

Latvia and Belarus have a border of 173 kilometers and jobs are divided into rounds – a 69-kilometer fence is built in the first round, while the remaining rounds are still in the process of deforestation, infrastructure has already been set up in some places, including the construction of a fence.

All works are scheduled to be concluded in 2024. “State Real Estate” hopes it will happen sooner.

“We understand that the geopolitical situation has changed,” Griškevičs said. “We have also been given a clear task of mobilizing resources and accordingly we work with the builder. It provides for the possibility of completing this second stage of work approximately half a year earlier.”

In four years' time, what had been built in Russia's border area had already become depreciated. Some may need to be repaired.

The infrastructure on the Russian border has been constructed around 230 kilometers of the total 283 kilometers, including a fence of 90 kilometers. In the remaining stages, jobs could be started in the near future.

“State Real Estate” plans to announce new procurement soon. These jobs are expected to be concluded in 2025.

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