Russia’s provocation against Baltic states raised concerns in Europe

On the night of May 23, Russian border guards removed several dozen buoys from the Estonian part of the Narva River. Estonia annually installs these buoys, marking the navigable channel of the river, ahead of the summer season.

This year, the installation began on May 13. The removal of these buoys, which are critical for preventing navigation errors, has disrupted Estonia and Russia’s established mutual agreement on their placement.

Such actions, carried out by Russian authorities, have caused significant concern and prompted responses from Baltic and EU countries. They are part of a broader pattern of hybrid warfare tactics, including territorial provocations and misinformation campaigns, aimed at undermining European nations’ security and unity.

Baltic states’ reaction

The head of the regional border guard office, Eerik Purgel, explained that before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Estonia and Moscow agreed on the placement of these markers. 

However, since 2023, Russia has not agreed with Estonia’s proposals. This year, Russia objected to the placement of about half of the 250 buoys. During the night, Russian border guards removed 24 buoys, some of which were among those disputed by Moscow. 

Estonia’s Police and Border Guard Department has contacted the Russian border service, demanding explanations and the return of the buoys. They await evidence from Russia that the previously agreed-upon navigable channel has changed; otherwise, they will continue to place the buoys as planned.

Estonian Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna stated that the incident should be regarded as part of Russia’s provocative behavior.

The European Union’s response

The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, demanded explanations from Russia regarding the removal of buoys on the Estonian-Russian border on the Narva River and called for their immediate return. 

Borrell emphasized that this border incident is part of a broader pattern of provocative behavior and hybrid actions by Russia, including at its maritime and land borders in the Baltic region. He stated that the EU finds such actions unacceptable and expects Russia to promptly explain the removal of the buoys and return them.

In response to the incident, Estonia summoned the Russian chargé d’affaires, Lenar Salimullin, to its Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Latvian Prime Minister Evika Siliņa condemned the actions of the Russian border guards, and Finnish Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen described Russia’s actions as unfriendly.

French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné also condemned the increase in Russian provocations against NATO member neighbors and expressed solidarity with Estonia, Finland, and Lithuania in the face of these ‘unacceptable aggressive actions’.

This incident highlights Russia’s ongoing strategy of exerting pressure and creating instability in the Baltic region, experts say. By removing the buoys, Russia is testing the resolve of Estonia and its NATO allies, seeking to create friction and uncertainty along its borders.

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