Poland Rushes Troops to Border, Belarus Denies Helicopter Violation

By Reuters
August 2, 2023Europe
Poland Rushes Troops to Border, Belarus Denies Helicopter Violation
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on July 23, 2023. (Sputnik/Alexei Danichev/Kremlin via Reuters)

WARSAW—Poland said on Tuesday it was rushing troops to its eastern border after accusing Belarus, Russia’s closest ally, of violating its airspace with military helicopters.

The Belarusian military denied any such violation and accused NATO member Poland, one of Ukraine’s most fervent backers in its conflict with Russia, of making up the accusation to justify a buildup of its troops.

Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko had earlier taunted Poland over the presence of Russian Wagner mercenaries near their joint border.

Poland’s Defence Ministry said it was sending “additional forces and resources, including combat helicopters.” It said it had informed NATO of the border violation and Belarus’ charge d’affaires had been summoned to provide an explanation.

The Polish military initially denied any border violation had occurred but later, after consultations, claimed the intrusion took place “at a very low height, hard to intercept by radar.”

Belarus’ defence ministry, writing on Telegram, said Warsaw had changed its mind about the incident “apparently after consulting its overseas masters.”

“This statement was not backed up by data from Poland,” it said. “The Belarusian Defence Ministry views it in the manner of an ‘old wives’ tale’ and notes there were no border violations by Mi-8 and Mi-24 helicopters.”

Last week, Mr. Putin accused Poland of harbouring territorial ambitions on Belarus and said it would consider any attack on its neighbor as an attack on itself.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr. Lukashenko told Poland it should thank him for keeping in check Wagner mercenaries now stationed in Belarus after an abortive mutiny against the Russian military leaders last month.

An unspecified number of the Wagner fighters have since moved to Belarus and begun training Mr. Lukashenko’s army. Poland had already started moving more than 1,000 of its own troops closer to the border.

State news agency Belta quoted Mr. Lukashenko on Tuesday as saying that the Poles “should pray that we’re holding onto (the Wagner fighters) and providing for them. Otherwise, without us, they would have seeped through and smashed up Rzeszow and Warsaw in no small way. So they shouldn’t reproach me, they should say thank you.”

Rzeszow is a city near the Ukrainian border.

On Saturday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said a group of 100 Wagner fighters had moved closer to the Belarusian city of Grodno near the Polish border, describing the situation as “increasingly dangerous.”

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