Baltics warn about Russian plan to move maritime borders

There have been calls for calm in Finland and the Baltic states after a draft Russian decree proposed revising its borders in the Baltic Sea.

Latvia said it was trying to clarify the situation, but Lithuania warned that the Kremlin was trying to intimidate its neighbors with a “deliberate and selective escalatory provocation.”

Finnish President Alexander Stubb said political leaders were closely monitoring the situation and “acting as always: calmly and based on the facts.”

The Russian Defense Ministry’s draft decree suggested moving maritime borders around the Russian islands in the Gulf of Finland and around the Kaliningrad exclave.

The decree was first highlighted on Tuesday, when the Russian Tass news agency and other media reported on its proposal to redraw the old borders dating back to the Soviet era in January 1985.

It was not immediately clear whether the draft proposed extending its borders to Finnish waters in the Baltic or Lithuanian waters near Kaliningrad. However, it would have included territory in the eastern Gulf of Finland, several islands near the Finnish coast, and areas near the two cities of Baltiysk and Zelenogradsk in Kaliningrad.

Finland and the Baltic states are all members of the EU and NATO and the military alliance is committed to defending their borders.

Finland’s Defense and Foreign Affairs committees held emergency meetings on Wednesday and Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said political leaders were “closely monitoring the situation.”

“At this point I don’t see any cause for further concern,” he said.

The Russian proposals were no longer visible on Wednesday and only the message “draft deleted” remained on the page. A Russian source later told Tass and other news agencies that there were no plans to review Russia’s territorial waters in the Baltic.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov referred all queries to the Defense Ministry, noting that “there is nothing political here,” while highlighting that the political situation had changed since the 1980s: “You can see the level of confrontation , especially in the Baltic region.”

Charly Salonius-Pasternak of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs said the Russian plan was clearly intended to look like a technical and bureaucratic exercise.

But it was also a very typical Russian approach of “investigate everywhere and then if you get a negative answer, say it was nothing.”

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said in X that this was “an obvious escalation against NATO and the EU and must receive an appropriately firm response.”

The Russian revelations also coincided with a call for vigilance from the head of the Swedish armed forces, General Micael Byden.

“Putin’s goal is to gain control of the Baltic Sea.” he told the German website RND. “The Baltic Sea must not become Putin’s playground where he can instill fear among NATO members.”

Sweden joined NATO in March, becoming the alliance’s 32nd member, and has bolstered its military presence on the Baltic island of Gotland over the past two years.

General Byden said he was sure Russia had its eyes on Gotland, because if Sweden lost control of the island it would mean the end of peace and stability in the Nordic and Baltic regions.

Finland, which joined NATO last year, has announced plans to prevent large numbers of asylum seekers from crossing its eastern border with Russia.

Helsinki fears that Moscow plans to “instrumentalize” migration, but the UN refugee agency has warned that the bill could lead to so-called expulsions of people with a legitimate right to asylum.

“Return practices put people in danger and too often lead to serious injuries, family divisions, or even deaths.” said Philippe Leclerc of UNHCR.

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