Poland is strengthening security at its border with Belarus amid concerns over increasing migrant pressure and reports that the Russian-backed so-called Wagner mercenaries have established a base there.
On on July 2, Mariusz Kamiński, the Polish interior minister, said Poland will send an additional force of 500 men from its prevention and anti-terrorist units to the Belarus border.
“They will join 5,000 border guards and 2,000 soldiers who have been protecting the security of this part of the Polish border,” tweeted Kamiński.
The move came following a statement by the leader of Poland’s ruling Conservatives who said his country would respond to potential threats posed by the Wagner group relocating in Belarus.
Last week, Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of Poland’s governing Law and Justice (PiS) party, said Poland was responding to the Wagner group’s presence in Belarus by reinforcing its defences in the east. Poland suspects the mercenaries could assist illegal migrants crossing into Poland. It is also concerned about the possibility of the Wagner group disrupting a major NATO summit in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, on July 11.
Regarding Belarus, Poland fears a repetition of a 2021 border flare-up, when it suspected the country of deliberately exacerbating problems by encouraging migrants to fly into Belarus to attempt crossings into the European Union via the borders of Poland and Lithuania.
On June 30, Stanisław Żaryn, a senior Polish security official, claimed Russia and Belarus would soon be opening air routes to enable more migrants to try to cross illegally into Poland. “In the near future, both Moscow and Minsk will launch new air connections that can be used to attract new groups of foreigners to Russia and Belarus. This applies to Cuba-Russia and Iraq-Belarus connections,” he said.
He warned that the situation was already deteriorating with the number of attempted illegal crossings into Poland on the rise. “More and more groups of migrants are storming the Polish border. The attacks are getting more and more aggressive,” he said.
He added: “Daily reports from the Polish Border Guard prove that the hybrid operation against Poland, conducted using the migration route, is being bolstered.”
The issue of migration has also impacted Poland’s domestic political scene. The Conservatives have promised to hold a referendum on the proposed and highly contentious EU Migration Pact and, together with Hungary, blocked the European Council summit conclusions regarding its adoption on 30 June.
The leader of Poland’s liberal opposition and former President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, on July 2 posted a broadcast on social media accusing the PiS of turning Poles against migrants while at the same time planning to admit hundreds of thousands more from African, Asian and Middle Eastern countries.
Tusk claimed that “last year Kaczyński had already brought to Poland over 130,000 citizens from these countries, that is 50 times more than in 2015” while “unleashing disgusting propaganda of contempt and stigmatisation of these people”.
Tusk’s stance was mocked by Kaczyński. At a public meeting in central Poland on the same day, he said that the opposition leader “seemed to have undergone a deep, spiritual transformation overnight and become a fierce opponent of any migration to Poland”.
He recalled how Tusk had claimed Poland would be sanctioned for refusing to accept relocated migrants after the 2015 migration crisis, and how he had opposed the building of a barrier on the border with Belarus. Tusk’s remarks have also been criticised by Poland’s Left party for being “xenophobic”, as he had linked the riots in France with the issue of migration.
The Polish Government refutes statistics used by Tusk in his claim that it was presiding over “uncontrolled migration”.
The government argues that the current influx of foreigners has come in response to domestic labour-market shortages. It points out that their arrival is strictly controlled on the basis of work-related visas for a specific period of time, which does not give residency rights or entry rights for family members.