Russia’s determination to assert control over Ukraine has shown no signs of weakening over the past 18 months. The continuous conflict between Russia and Ukraine, coupled with the support from Western countries for Ukraine, has raised fears that it could escalate into a global conflict akin to a world war. However, Russia has allies, including Belarus, a former Soviet nation. A recent incident involving Belarus and Poland, a NATO member, has added to the concerns and unease.
On Tuesday, August 1, there was an incident where Poland accused Belarus of violating its airspace during military exercises. According to Warsaw’s announcement, two helicopters crossed the border, and this action was condemned as “dangerous.” The claims were further supported by posts on social media by citizens in the area who shared pictures of the airspace violation on Facebook. Interestingly, the Polish government initially denied the breach but later changed its position, stating that the border crossing did occur at a very low altitude, making it challenging to detect on radar.
The Belarusian military has refuted the accusations made by Poland and has instead accused Poland of attempting to escalate tensions between the two countries. In a statement posted on Telegram, the Belarusian defense ministry claimed that Warsaw’s stance changed, suggesting it was influenced by consultations with its foreign allies, possibly referring to the United States. Belarus maintains that none of its Mi-24 and Mi-8 helicopters violated Polish airspace, and it argues that Poland’s data does not support the allegation of such a breach.
Nevertheless, this is not the initial instance of tensions arising between the two countries. The Guardian reports that President Alexander Lukashenko has provocatively reminded Warsaw that Wagner Group mercenaries, whom he provided a haven after a foiled mutiny, are located close to Poland’s border. He even suggests that Poland should express gratitude to him for retaining these fighters and preventing them from heading further west.
Reacting to the alleged breach, Poland has taken action by dispatching troops and combat helicopters to the affected region. Furthermore, the country’s defense ministry reported that it notified NATO about the situation and called for an explanation from Belarus’ chargé d’affaires. This deployment of troops is an addition to the 1,000 personnel that Poland had already begun relocating in response to the escalating situation.
Poland is confronting further challenges from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has accused the country of having intentions to annex Belarus. Putin issued a warning, implying that Russia would take action if such a scenario were to unfold. Additionally, Lukashenko reportedly made light of the situation when talking with Putin, joking that the Wagner mercenaries might be considering heading towards Warsaw or Rzeszów, which is situated near Ukraine’s border. Presently, a significant number of these mercenaries are said to be residing in the Belarusian city of Grodno, which is close to Poland’s border, as confirmed by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.