Poland and the three Baltic states – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – have jointly called on Belarus to remove Wagner Group mercenaries from its territory and end the migration crisis it and Russia have engineered on its borders.
They warn that, if Minsk and Moscow mount further “provocations”, they will adopt a “joint, decisive and appropriate response”, including the possibility of closing all border crossings with Belarus.
“We are determined to protect the borders of the democratic world,” say the quartet, who sit on the eastern flank of both the European Union and NATO.
🔹 @PolandMOI hosted a joint press conference of the Ministers of the Interior of Poland 🇵🇱 Lithuania 🇱🇹 Latvia 🇱🇻 and Estonia 🇪🇪 – @Kaminski_M_, @ABilotaite, @MarisKucinskis and Lauri Läänemets concerning security cooperation in the region. pic.twitter.com/HaIGZopI7T
— Poland MOI 🇵🇱 (@PolandMOI) August 28, 2023
Their position was presented in a joint statement signed by the interior ministers of all four countries following a meeting in Warsaw.
They noted that, since mid-2021, they have “been facing unprecedented illegal migration pressure provoked and artificially sustained by the Belarusian regime, clearly supported by Russia”.
Over that period, Belarus has orchestrated attempts by thousands of migrants and asylum seekers – mainly from the Middle East, Asia and Africa – to enter the European Union over the borders with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
The Polish government plans to further boost troop numbers on the Belarus border amid a surge in the number of migrants attempting to cross.
Minsk also announced today that it is launching military exercises near the border with Poland https://t.co/ur7QJ0X0oI
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) August 7, 2023
In their statement, the four interior ministers described Belarus and Russia’s actions as a “hybrid attack” being “used to destabilise our societies and the entire European Union”.
They added that, while they have “efficiently minimised the migratory pressure and protected the external EU border…we remain aware that Belarus and Russia can organise border provocations”.
“Our response [to any such provocations] will be united, determined and appropriate to the situation, with the possibility of further isolation of both regimes by closing border crossings,” said the quartet.
— Poland MOI 🇵🇱 (@PolandMOI) August 28, 2023
“In this regard, we call upon the Belarusian regime to remove the ‘Wagner’ group from the Belarusian territories, withdraw all illegal immigrants from the border areas and to return them to their countries of origin,” concluded their statement.
After the Wagner Group’s short-lived rebellion in June, Belarus offered sanctuary to its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and fighters. Though Prigozhin remained in Russia – where he died last week – a number of Wagner mercenaries – some estimates suggest several thousand – were transferred to Belarus.
There, they have been involved in training Belarusian forces, including near the borders with Poland and Lithuania.
Wagner forces in Belarus have moved towards the Suwałki Gap between Poland and Lithuania, says Poland’s PM
The mercenaries will mount “hybrid attacks” by helping migrants illegally enter Poland and may even enter themselves disguised as migrants, he warns https://t.co/RqxXeGtKoa
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) July 29, 2023
At a press conference following the meeting with his Baltic counterparts, Poland’s interior minister Mariusz Kamiński reiterated that, “if there is a critical incident on the border with Belarus, regardless of whether it is the Polish, Lithuanian or Latvian border, we will immediately retaliate. All border crossings will be closed”.
“We have developed a mechanism of permanent consultations,” he added, quoted by broadcaster TVN. “We have appointed a working team that will monitor the situation on our borders 24 hours a day and, if necessary, will immediately take appropriate action.”
Lithuania’s Agnė Bilotaitė said that the two types of incident that could lead to a border closure are “an armed incident” or “a mass breakthrough of migrants”, reports Reuters.
Poland and Lithuania have already closed some of their border crossings with Belarus this year in response to Minsk’s actions. Bilotaitė said today that her ministry is planning to close two further crossings in the near future, reports LRT.
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Main image credit: MSWiA (under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 PL)
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.