PM Mateusz Morawiecki expresses concern over the movement of Russian mercenary fighters in Belarus near the Polish border.
Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has warned that more than 100 members of the Wagner group, a notorious Russian mercenary outfit, are moving towards a strategic stretch of land between Poland and Lithuania, and could try to infiltrate the NATO territory by posing as migrants.
The Suwalki Gap, a 65-kilometer-long corridor of Polish territory situated between Belarus and Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave separated from the mainland, is seen as a potential flashpoint in the region. Poland is a member of both the European Union and NATO, and it has been concerned about its security with Russian ally Belarus and Ukraine on its eastern border.
Morawiecki said at a news conference on Saturday that the Wagner forces had moved close to the Suwalki Gap after taking part in joint military exercises with Belarusian troops near the border city of Brest earlier this month. He said the mercenaries could pose as migrants to cross the border, as part of a “hybrid attack” on Polish territory.
The Poland-Belarus border has already been a tense place for several months, ever since large numbers of immigrants from the Middle East and Africa began arriving, seeking to enter the EU by crossing into Poland, as well as Lithuania and Latvia. Poland’s government accuses Russia and Belarus of using the migrants to destabilize Poland and other EU countries. It calls the migration a form of hybrid warfare, and has responded by building a high wall along part of its border with Belarus.
“Now the situation becomes even more dangerous,” Morawiecki told reporters. He added that “this is certainly a step towards a further hybrid attack on Polish territory.”
Morawiecki spoke during a visit to an arms factory in Gliwice, in southern Poland, where Leopard tanks used by the Ukrainian army are being repaired. He said Poland was ready to defend its sovereignty and security and called for more solidarity and support from its NATO allies.
The Wagner group is a shadowy private military company that has been linked to various conflicts and operations in support of Russian interests around the world, including in Syria, Libya, Sudan, Central African Republic and Venezuela. The group is widely believed to be financed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Belarus has been under international isolation and sanctions since a disputed presidential election last year that saw longtime leader Alexander Lukashenko claim a sixth term in office amid allegations of fraud and repression. Lukashenko has accused Western countries of plotting to overthrow him, and has sought closer ties with Russia.