Poland to spend $2.5 billion fortifying eastern border

Polish PM announces major plan to secure the EU's eastern flank, as Ukraine's President Zelenskyy expects Russia to step up its offensive in the country's north-east

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk speaks at a ceremony to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino, in Krakow, on Saturday. EPA
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Poland is to spend more than €2.3 billion ($2.5 billion) strengthening its eastern border against potential attacks, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on Saturday.

“We have taken the decision to invest 10 billion zlotys for our security and above all to secure our eastern border,” he said, referring to the fortification project as an “eastern shield”.

Poland's eastern neighbours include Belarus, Ukraine and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.

“The reinforcement of 400km of border with Russia and Belarus will be an element of dissuasion, a strategy to push back the war at our frontiers,” Mr Tusk said.

Poland has been a strong supporter of Ukraine since the Russian invasion more than two years ago and the country is a transit route for arms being shipped from Ukraine's western allies.

The Polish army has been modernised, having acquired billions of dollars of military equipment, mostly from the US and South Korea.

Poland's defence spending has also been raised to four per cent of GDP, making it one of the highest proportions in the EU.

Weakened air defences

Meanwhile, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the AFP news agency he expects Russia to step up its offensive in the north-east, and warned that the capital, Kyiv, only has a quarter of the air defences it needs to hold the front line.

Russian forces made modest gains over the winter, but launched a surprise attack just over a week ago in the Kharkiv region, which has afforded them their biggest territorial gains in 18 months.

Mr Zelenskyy said Russian troops advanced between 5km and 10km along the north-eastern border before being halted by Ukrainian forces, but added that the region could be the “first wave” in a wider offensive.

“I won't say it's a great success [for Russia] but we have to be sober and understand that they are going deeper into our territory,” he said.

Mr Zelenskyy said the situation around Kharkiv has been “controlled” but “not stabilised”.

He also repeated his request for Ukraine's allies to send more air defence and fighter jets in order to challenge Russia's air superiority.

“Today, we have about 25 per cent of what we need to defend Ukraine. I'm talking about air defence,” he said, adding that the country needed “120 to 130" F-16 fighter jets or other advanced aircraft to achieve air “parity” with Russia.

Updated: May 18, 2024, 1:20 PM