Lithuania’s deputy interior minister Arnoldas Abramavičius said his country and Poland are mulling a decision to shut their borders with Belarus if the pair decide any significant threat from the Russia-backed mercenary Wagner Group stationed there becomes apparent.
A move to close the borders would be seen as a potential problem for the European Union, Russia and China.
Abramavičius told reporters on July 28: “The discussions are real. The possibility of closing the border exists.”
He confirmed that his ministry had met representatives of the Polish Government on July 27 in Krynki, a small town close to Poland’s border with Belarus, to assess the situation.
Abramavičius stressed that there were now about 1,200 Wagner mercenaries in Belarus and that the vast majority were based at a training ground in Osipovichi, near the Polish border.
That has raised concerns about the possibility of “provocative actions” being planned by the mercenaries and the Belarusian authorities.
On July 19, Poland moved military units to its East after the Russian mercenaries began training Belarusian special forces a few miles from the border. Poland fears that the force could be used to intensify efforts at facilitating illegal migrant crossings.
The Polish-Belarusian border has been the subject of thousands of attempts at illegal crossings since the summer of 2021. Belarusian authorities have allowed the migrants on to their territory and then transported them to the border, it is claimed. Similar attempts were also made at the Lithuanian border.
Both Poland and Lithuania have fortified their respective borders with Belarus and have limited the numbers of and conditions for all border crossings.
The complete closure of the borders would be a serious escalation of tensions and would effectively cut off Belarus from the European Union. It would also mean Russians living in the enclave of Kaliningrad between Poland and Lithuania would be unable to travel to mainland Russia through Belarus.
The Poles and Lithuanians are actively warning Belarus over its hosting of the Wagner Group. Both governments are telling the Belarusian leadership that should it make any serious attempt to cause trouble on their borders, the consequences for Belarus and the whole region will be extreme.
Any closure of the border between Poland and Belarus would also not be welcomed by China, given its Belt and Road initiative has already been hit by the tensions there.
A rail connection through Russia and Belarus into the EU was designed to enable China to expand into Europe’s markets. The spat between Poland and Belarus is not helping the flow of trade with severe border-traffic restrictions now in place.