The Polish government accused Belarus of violating its airspace on Tuesday following reports of residents witnessing helicopters with Belarusian insignia flying overhead.
Poland summoned the Belarusian diplomat and “issued a firm protest and called on the Belarusian side to immediately and in detail explain the incident.” Defense Minister Mariusz B?aszczak also ordered an increase in Poland’s military presence along the border and has informed NATO of the violation.
The Defense Ministry of Poland confirmed the violation in a statement, saying that “there was a violation of Polish airspace by two Belarusian helicopters that were carrying out training near the border.” Adding that Polish authorities had been notified that training exercises were being conducted by Belarus near the border. The helicopters reportedly flew at a low altitude and were not picked up by radar.
“The Polish side emphasized that the incident is perceived as another element of the escalation of tension on the Polish-Belarusian border. Poland expects Belarus to refrain from such activities,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Why it Matters:
Poland has previously accused Belarus of artificially creating the current migrant crisis by flying migrants primarily from Africa and the Middle East into the country and then sending them across the border in an effort to weaken the nation.
Polish authorities have slowly increased their military and police presence along the border, sending 500 police officers earlier in July to help bolster border security at the border in an effort to bring order to the thousands of illegal crossings into the country.
The Worsening Crisis:
This incident comes after an estimated 100 Wagner troops were reportedly sent to the Belarusian city of Grodno, located on Belarus’ western border, according to Poland’s Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki. Grodno is located near the Suwalki Gap, a key region that spans the Polish-Lithuanian border, which separates Belarus from Russian Kaliningrad.
Morawiecki claims that the Wagner troops may pose as border guards and help smuggle illegal immigrants into Poland in an effort to destabilize the nation, a tactic that has previously been used by Belarus. However, Anton Motolko, the leader of the Belarusian opposition Hajun project, which monitors military action in Belarus, told Reuters that his organization had not observed any indication that Wagner was approaching Grodno.
Tensions along the border have worsened recently, as Polish authorities have reported an increase in violent migrants attempting to cross the border illegally. “There have been many attacks on Polish patrols. Seventeen vehicles have been damaged this year, of which 13 in June alone,” Anna Michalska, a spokeswoman for the border guard, said in a statement earlier in July.
This incident is one of many others that have plagued Polish-Belarusian relations in recent days and is not expected to be the last.
While direct military action by Belarus or Poland is unlikely to happen, concerns over Belarus’ continued hostile use of migrants against Poland has left many pondering what solution can be achieved.