The allies of the NATO located along the eastern front of the alliance are deploying defenses Faced with growing concern about the presence of mercenaries from the wagner grouplinked to Russia, in belaruswhere some have been deployed since a brief riot in Russia in June.
Poland, Lithuania and Latvia -members of NATO and the European Union that border Belarus- were already on alert since two years ago large numbers of migrants and refugees from Belarus began to arrive at their borders. They have accused Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, a Russian ally, of opening the migration route in an act of “hybrid warfare” aimed at creating instability in the West.
Now concern has grown even more since Wagner’s troops began arriving in Belarus after his short-lived mutiny in Russia.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki declared over the weekend that about 100 Wagnerian fighters in Belarus had approached the border with Poland, specifically to a strategically sensitive area known as the Suwalki Gap.
“Now the situation is even more dangerous”, Morawiecki declared to the press. “It’s definitely about a step towards a new hybrid attack on Polish territory”.
An incident on Tuesday further increased concern: two Belarusian helicopters entered Polish airspace at low altitude while conducting manoeuvres.
The Polish Ministry of Defense reported this incident to the NATOwho said on Wednesday that he is monitoring the situation.
“NATO is closely monitoring the situation along its eastern borders, including yesterday’s incident in which two Belarusian military helicopters briefly crossed Polish airspace at low altitude,” a NATO official said under the usual condition. of anonymity. “We are in close contact with the Polish authorities on this matter, and we will continue to do what is necessary to ensure that all Alliance territory remains secure”.
Poland, Lithuania and Latvia say they have been deploying more troops and equipment at its borders.
Guntis Pujats, head of the Latvian State Border Guard, told Latvian media on Wednesday that security risks around the border with Belarus have been high since Minsk started using migrants as a tool. of “hybrid warfare”, but they have increased with the arrival of the Wagner group. He said that border guards have started training a special group in response.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said this week that it would be tempting for the Wagner group to use its presence near the Lithuanian border “for various provocations”.
“So I think the threat is seriousNauseda said during a visit Monday to a location on the Belarusian border where seven Lithuanian officers were killed by Soviet paratroopers 32 years ago.
Others have suggested that the capabilities of the armed group should not be overestimated.
Laurynas Kasciunas, chairman of the Seimas National Security and Defense Commission, told reporters that Wagner mercenaries from Belarus, with their current combat power, do not pose a conventional military threat. Whether they pose much of a threat in the future, he said, “will depend on other scenarios, how they are armed and their orders.”
In Poland, some critics of the government believe that it is exaggerating the threat to present himself as tough on security ahead of the parliamentary elections this autumn. Opposition leader Donald Tusk accused the ruling party of using Wagner to stoke fear of the election, something the party has denied.
Some Poles also criticized the authorities for initially refusing to acknowledge that the Belarusian helicopters had entered Polish airspace on Tuesday. At first, the military insisted that the Belarusian aircraft had not entered Poland. But after local residents posted photos on social media of aircraft bearing Belarusian insignia several kilometers from the border inside Poland, the Defense Ministry issued a statement claiming it was true.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said earlier this week that The United States views the Wagner group – whose forces have fought in Ukraine and also operated in Africa – as a threat.
“We have seen their malign efforts on the African continent. So we are certainly concerned that this group, at the behest of the Russian government – because they do not work independently of the Russian government – is a threat to all of us,” Thomas-Greenfield told reporters on Monday. “And we have to make sure that the message is clear that any attack by the Wagner Group will be seen as an attack by the Russian government.”
(With information from AP)
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