Tensions are rising on the Poland-Belarus border. Here’s what you need to know

The border across the Polizia valley, Ukraine, is dangerous for European unity. Here’s what you need to know

Tensions are rising on the Poland-Belarus border. Here’s what you need to know

There are very real fears that Poland will build a wall across the Polizia valley, the flank of the European border that runs across Belarus. Many of the problems on this front are complicated by Russia, but there are also regional rivalries.

This border is no easy feat, and it contains barriers and problems that require a thorough rethink. It also puts the European Union’s promise of energy independence in conflict with its eastern ambitions.

Poland’s desire to build a wall will have a domino effect across the border. Photograph: PA/Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

The border across the Polizia valley is dangerous for European unity and needs to be addressed.

The border is full of problems

It’s complicated by Russia, but not all of the problems are related to Russia. The “Polizia” in question is also the original name of the Polish section of the border. It was originally a great trading zone between Russia and Poland, but has been changing hands again and again as it’s gone down through history.

The most serious issue is in the south, where Belarus, Russia and Ukraine meet. This section of the border runs into Russia on the outskirts of Arkhangelsk, then cuts into Poland on the Polizia. There are political battles over the name and the main problem for Europe has been a series of missteps by EU officials, who have made an effort to absorb Moscow in recent years, by giving Moscow memberships in the customs union. The most serious consequence of these actions has been a recession in some former Soviet states, such as Estonia and Latvia.

The result has been a border that runs all the way through the Polizia Valley, so that Russian food can cross into Ukraine, and western food can cross into Belarus. Belarus claims that it has the right to trade with anyone who gets a licence to do so. Kiev is arguing that Russia doesn’t have the right to trade with Ukraine, and as a result the Europeans are getting crossed with a confusingly mixed border. It is a complex situation which leaves many Europeans in a situation of tension, conflict and insecurity.

A wall is an appropriate response. Photograph: Pier Paolo Cito/AP

How can a wall be built?

There are a few ways to tackle this issue. Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, has suggested building a border guard cordon, which would keep people out while still allowing trucks through, and ideally making space for further work on a border bridge. Ukraine, on the other hand, has signalled an increased willingness to work with Europe, but an unspoken mood that any fence along the border should come from the European side.

Belarus has been a difficult one. It refused to respond to a customs union from 2004 until 2007. It opened up customs once more in 2011, but then re-imposed taxes from 2014 on most of its imports from Europe.

What should the EU do?

The current situation is just one that the EU could do without, but if Europe fails to respond, then very bad things could happen. The progress towards building a viable and energy-independent Europe would have to be put on hold, and regional or even total economic isolation would occur for regions along the way.

Europe has been friends with Ukraine for a long time, both as the beneficiary of peace in the south of the country, and as a reliable transit country for its energy. Brussels will find it extremely difficult to revert to that relationship, so the best way to send a message to its partner nation is by taking action on the border itself.

This is not something which will be easy. The risk of further rifts is real, but so are some very dangerous possibilities.

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