Polish Deputy Defense Minister Cezary Tomczyk and Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces General Wieslaw Kukula in Warsaw, Monday, May 27, 2024.

At the Polish General Staff headquarters on May 27, the tone was serious but calm as Defense Minister Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz announced details on the Eastern Shield. This deterrent military investment of around 10 billion zlotys (€2.3 billion) is “the biggest operation to strengthen Poland’s eastern border and NATO’s eastern flank since 1945,” he said. These words echoed those of Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who on May 18, promised to make the border “impossible for a potential enemy to cross.”

On the screen in Warsaw, one slide after another revealed the fortifications planned to be 400-500 kilometers long by 2028 on both the Russian (232 kilometers including the Kaliningrad exclave) and Belarusian (418 kilometers) borders. Reinforced concrete hedges, ditches, surveillance towers, bunkers, military warehouses, reinforced bridges and roads: A space had even been marked for possible mines. “Our actions are aimed at defending (…) every inch of our republic’s territory,” underlined Kosiniak-Kamysz.

Above all, the shield is based on improving the existing detection system (by means of an anti-drone system and the army’s operational centers at the border). Its second objective is to hinder enemy mobility. It will enhance armed forces and civilian security, and it will facilitate Polish troop mobility by improving local roads and bridges. The structure, which will be presented to NATO and the European Union, is also to be connected to the Baltic defense line currently under construction in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

“It’s a good idea,” said Tomasz Pawluszko, assistant professor of international relations at Opole University and researcher at the Sobieski Institute think-tank. A specialist in international security, Pawluszko believed that “on the eve of the NATO summit in Washington, it sends a message not only to Russia, but also to NATO’s partners: Poland and the Baltic states are considering all kinds of scenarios.”

This measure also repairs a historic flaw in Polish defense. During the Cold War, most military units were concentrated in the west of the country. While danger from the east continues to grow, this imbalance has not been completely redressed.

While a military attack on Poland by Russia – too busy in Ukraine – does not appear to be on the agenda, it cannot be ruled out within the next decade. “If the Russians decide to annex Belarus by 2030, Poland will have a direct border with Russia. Similarly, if Ukraine doesn’t win, we’ll have to be ready, because Russia is able to train 200,000 soldiers a year and is heading for a new Cold War,” said Pawluszko.

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