Baltic-Russian borders today: A reversal of fortune from the First Cold War.

During the First Cold War, Moscow built barriers on the western border of its empire to keep people from leaving but justified them by arguing that in fact these walls and barbed wire fences were needed to keep others from entering Soviet regimes in eastern Europe and the USSR.

Now, once again, barriers are going up between East and West not everywhere but where they are it is for very different reasons and by very different hands. In all three Baltic countries, the governments have been compelled to erect new barriers to block efforts by Minsk and possibly Moscow to use migrants as a weapon.

The situation reverses what was the case earlier but underscores the fact that the east-west divide remains real and that these borders are now increasingly obviously “borders between two worlds” and thus reifying a division many thought had been overcome for all time.

In recent days, there has been some progress in restricting the illegal flow of immigrants from the Middle East via Belarus into Lithuania, but the danger that dictators like Alyaksandr Lukashenka may try to use this weapon just as Moscow has tried to do with migrants into Western Europe mean that more tightly controlled borders are likely to again be the norm.

That may work to the benefit of the dictators in the short term, just as stemming the flood of those fleeing the communist dictatorships did for the Soviet bloc. But in the longer term, these new barriers, the result of such policies – the forcing of Western countries to erect more barriers – will work against those who seek to rule their people by repressive force.

Despite what some in Minsk and Moscow hope for, many in the populations they control will recognize that these barriers have gone up not because the countries erecting them wanted that outcome but because their own governments have engaged in actions that left the West no choice.

And once they reach that conclusion, they will recognize as well that it is not the countries of the West who are the problem but their own regimes. Over time, that will erode support for the regimes in their countries just as surely as the walls and barbed wire barriers Moscow erected during the first cold war.

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