Tensions between Russia and Poland are rising

Putin warned Poland against attacking Belarus, saying that any aggression from Poland on its ally would be seen as an attack on Russia.

Tensions between Russia and Poland are rising
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting of the Security Council via a video link in Moscow, Russia, July 21, 2023. Sputnik/Alexander Kazakov/Kremlin via REUTERS

The backstory: After WWII, Poland lost some of its eastern territory, which was annexed by the Soviet Union. That territory is now partly in Belarus and partly in Ukraine. Today, Poland is a NATO country and a close ally to Ukraine. It shares borders with Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, putting it in a strategic position when it comes to the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war.

More recently: After the Wagner group tried to rebel against Moscow a few weeks ago, Russia exiled its leader, and its fighters either had to enlist with Russia’s defense or move to Belarus. Now those mercenaries are stationed in Belarus, and reports are coming in that they’re holding joint exercises with the Belarussian military. A Russian lawmaker said on Russian TV this month that President Putin sent the Wagner group there where they could possibly attack Poland and capture the Suwałki Gap, which connects the Baltic states to the rest of Europe.

Last week, the Polish government decided to re-station about 1,000 troops near its eastern border, closer to Belarus, over concerns about Wagner now being there, with the government saying that moving these troops is justified by the joint exercises between Wagner and Belarus.

The development: Last Friday, Putin accused Poland of wanting to retake those eastern territories, including the parts that are in Ukraine and Belarus. In fact, Russia has alleged for years that Poland has plans to invade Ukraine. But the Polish government hasn’t expressed plans or made any moves to support these accusations.

Putin then warned Poland against attacking Belarus, saying that any aggression from Poland on its ally would be seen as an attack on Russia. On Sunday, Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko met with Putin, and they talked on TV. During this meeting, Lukashenko said that Wagner fighters want to move west (i.e., toward Poland). But any attacks on Poland would mean other NATO countries would get involved and respond to defend the member state. Germany has already responded, with Defense Minister Boris Pistorius saying the country is prepared to help Poland defend its border.

Key comments:

“Aggression against Belarus will mean aggression against the Russian Federation,” Russian President Putin told a televised Security Council meeting on Friday. “We will respond to it with all means at our disposal.”

"Stalin was a war criminal, guilty of the death of hundreds of thousands of Poles,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki responded to Putin’s comments in a tweet on Friday. “Historical truth is not debatable. The ambassador of the Russian Federation will be summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

“Training or joint exercises of the Belarusian army and the Wagner group is undoubtedly a provocation,” Polish security official Zbigniew Hoffmanna told Polish state news agency PAP, as per a Reuters translation. "The Committee analysed possible threats, such as the dislocation of Wagner Group units. Therefore, the Minister of National Defense, chairman of the Committee, Mariusz Blaszczak, decided to move our military formations from the west to the east of Poland."