Poland has announced that it is sending an additional 500 troops and special vehicles to its border with Belarus, as it accuses its neighbor of violating its airspace with military helicopters and orchestrating a migrant crisis to destabilize the European Union. Poland also warned of a possible “armed” escalation on the border, fearing that Belarus might try to provoke an incident with the help of Russian mercenaries.
The Polish defense ministry said on Tuesday that it had informed NATO of the border violation and summoned the Belarusian charge d’affaires to provide an explanation. The Belarusian military denied the accusation and blamed Poland for making up the claim to justify a troop build-up. Poland is one of Ukraine’s most fervent backers in its war with Russia.
The border tension comes amid reports that more than 100 troops from the Russian mercenary group Wagner are moving towards a thin strip of land between Poland and Lithuania, known as the Suwalki gap or corridor. The Polish prime minister said that the Wagner troops could pose as migrants or Belarusian border guards to cross the border and infiltrate Poland.
Belarus has allowed Russian President Vladimir Putin to use its territory as a launch pad for the Ukraine invasion. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has not committed his own troops to the war but has mocked Poland for being afraid of the Wagner fighters. He also said that some of them were keen to “go on a trip to Warsaw”.
Poland has already started moving more than 1,000 of its own troops closer to the border. It has also accused Belarus of sending thousands of migrants westward in an attempt to overwhelm Polish border forces. So far this year, there have been about 16,000 attempts by migrants to cross the border illegally.