Poland has ramped up troop deployment on its eastern border and notified NATO after two Belarusian helicopters violated its airspace today, pushing tensions between Warsaw and it Moscow-allied neighbour to boiling point.
Warsaw authorities announced they were going to increase Poland’s military presence along the border and that they had summoned Belarus’ top diplomat in Warsaw in protest.
Earlier on Tuesday, Poland’s army said helicopters belonging to Belarus, a close ally of Russia, had not violated the NATO country’s airspace, but it later backtracked in a subsequent statement.
It comes amid heightened anxieties in Poland over mercenaries from the Russia-linked Wagner group arriving in Belarus following their short-lived rebellion against the Kremlin in June.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said a group of ‘one hundred Wagner mercenaries’ in Belarus had moved closer to the Polish border – which he labelled ‘a step towards further hybrid attack on the Polish territory’.
But Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, Vladimir Putin’s close ally, taunted Warsaw over the presence of Wagner mercenaries near the NATO country’s border, saying Poland should thank him for keeping them in check.
Poland announced it has notified NATO after two Belarusian helicopters violated its airspace today
Earlier Tuesday, Polish residents in an area near the border with Belarus reported seeing helicopters with Belarusian insignia which they said flew overhead
Belarus is Poland’s eastern neighbour. Warsaw has announced it is stepping up military deployments on its border
Belarus is a close ally of Russia and recently agreed to host Wagner mercenary forces. File picture shows Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin
‘There was a violation of Polish airspace by two Belarusian helicopters that were training near the border,’ the Polish defence ministry said in a statement.
‘The violation took place in the Bialowieza area at a very low altitude, hampering the detection by radar systems,’ the ministry said in explanation.
It added that ‘NATO was notified about the incident’.
It also said the defence minister ordered an increase of the number of soldiers at the Belarusian border, citing intensified ‘hybrid actions’ by Russia and Belarus against Poland.
Prime Minister Morawiecki said on Saturday: ‘They will probably be disguised as Belarusian border guards, helping illegal migrants to cross into Polish territory, to destabilise Poland.’
Poland and its neighbours on NATO’s eastern flank have voiced concerns about a potential threat from Belarus which now hosts the Wagner mercenary group.
Poland and Lithuania belong to both the European Union and NATO, and have worried about their security with Russian ally Belarus and Ukraine on its eastern border.
For two years, large numbers of migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa have been attempting to enter Poland and Lithuania, which view the migration as an attempt by Moscow-ally Belarus to create instability.
Earlier Tuesday, Polish residents in an area near the border with Belarus reported seeing helicopters with Belarusian insignia which they said flew overhead.
Some posted photos of the aircraft. Poland’s military initially denied that they had crossed into Polish airspace.
Poland’s military initially denied that they had crossed into Polish airspace
Belarus had earlier informed Poland of plans to carry out training exercises in the area
But by evening, the Defense Ministry acknowledged that ‘there was a violation of Polish airspace by two Belarusian helicopters that were carrying out training near the border.’
It added that Belarus had earlier informed Poland of plans to carry out training exercises in the area.
It said they had been flying at a low altitude and were not picked up by radar.
In reaction to the incursion, Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak ordered an increase in the number of soldiers along the border, as well as an increase in other resources, including combat helicopters, the ministry said.
Separately, the Foreign Ministry said that the chargé d’affaires of Belarus was ‘immediately summoned’ and that Warsaw ‘issued a firm protest and called on the Belarusian side to immediately and in detail explain the incident.’
‘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 ministry said.
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