Poland intends to deploy roughly 10,000 troops along its border with Belarus to defend against what a high-ranking official described as an “unpredictable foe”.
The Polish government has grown increasingly alarmed as a result of a series of moves by its eastern neighbour, including military training employing experienced Russian paramilitaries affiliated with the Wagner private military business.
Polish authorities have also detained two Russian nationals on suspicion of spying.
The suspects were caught while allegedly distributing posters in Warsaw and Krakow that were linked to a website associated with Wagner’s recruitment and propaganda operations.
Since the 2020 Belarusian presidential elections, in which pro-Russian leader Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory in what Poland and the rest of the Western world regarded as a rigged poll, Poland has backed the Belarusian opposition.
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This support has been ongoing. Belarus sponsored the migration of migrants from the Middle East and Africa to Poland’s border in 2021.
Poland and the EU regarded this action as a coordinated effort with Russia to cause instability in Europe. Poland, led by a right-wing administration opposed to accepting migrants, built a $400,000 barrier that drastically curbed migrant influx.
Belarusian state officials and pro-government activists have formed a group called the Patriotic Force Command, which Minsk uses as a political tool. In a recent address to the Polish nation the group alleged that Polish politicians are “igniting the fire of war with their actions and rhetoric” and are being “driven by the frenzy of chauvinism.”
Meanwhile, officials in Moscow have repeatedly voiced groundless allegations that Poland intends on annexing western regions of Ukraine. Moscow also says it has moved some of its short-range nuclear weapons into Belarus, close to the NATO eastern frontier.
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Poland is also concerned over the presence in Belarus of thousands of Russian Wagner mercenaries who were recently said to have taken part in training near the border.
Two Russian men were arrested last week in Poland accused of having spread the Wagner group’s ideology.
More than half of Poles questioned recently by the IBRIS survey center said they considered the Russian mercenaries in Belarus as a threat.
Two Belarusian military helicopters flew at low altitude over the Polish village of Bialowieza, near the border, for a few minutes last week before returning to Belarus, an action that Poland said was a provocation.
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Beside being NATO’s and the EU’s frontier, Poland’s eastern border includes a strategic spot, the so-called Suwalki Gap — 96 kilometers (60 miles) of border with Lithuania that links the three Baltic states, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, to the rest of the NATO alliance and the EU.
The narrow gap also separates Belarus from Kaliningrad, a heavily militarized Russian exclave that has no land connection to Russia.
Military analysts in the West have long viewed the Suwalki Gap as a potential flashpoint in any confrontation between Russia and NATO. They worry that Russia might try to seize the gap and cut off the three Baltic states.
The area is heavily protected by Polish and U.S. troops on the Polish side and Canadian and German troops on the Lithuanian side.
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