The Polish authorities have arrested two Russian citizens over the appearance in Warsaw and Kraków of posters and stickers targeted at recruiting people for the Russia-backed Wagner Group mercenaries.
The adverts have appeared in both cities with the Wagner Group’s skull logo along with a QR code that directs users to a Russian portal with information about the group.
There was also a video on social media showing a man putting the stickers on rubbish bins along the riverside promenade in Warsaw.
Poland’s interior minister Mariusz Kamiński on August 14 revealed that the internal Security Agency (ABW) and the police had managed to detain “two Russians who were distributing propaganda material of the Wagner Group in Kraków and Warsaw”.
The two men have been charged with espionage, attempts to enlist Polish citizens to a foreign military group and participation in an international criminal association that aims to commit terrorist crimes. If convicted, they each face up to 10 years imprisonment.
According to interior ministry sources, the two men were found to be in possession of 3,000 leaflets that they have allegedly said had been handed to them in Moscow. The ministry claims that they had managed to post around 300 leaflets in public spaces.
The ministry’s investigation has established that the two men were to be paid around 500,000 rubles (€4,500) for their distribution of the materials. They had been scheduled to leave Poland on August 12 but were detained the day before.
The ministry claims that the two men have been engaged in similar activities in other European cities, including Berlin and Paris before arriving in Poland.
In taking a tough stance against those engaged in promotional activities for the Wagner Group, Poland is sending out a message that it will not tolerate such actions on its soil. It hopes that the prospect of stiff penalties for the two men detained will deter anyone attempting to follow in their footsteps.
The uncompromising approach taken by the authorities will likely have full public backing. The vast majority of Poles oppose Russian aggression in Ukraine and view Russia as a potential aggressor and threat to Polish security.
This year alone, Poland has detained more than a dozen foreign nationals on suspicion of spying for Russia.
In the spring, a group of Russians were detained for allegedly attempting to place monitoring cameras along railway routes believed to be used for transporting weapons to Ukraine and of plotting sabotage.
Soon afterwards, a Russian Polish ice hockey club player was arrested and charged with spying.