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What is Behind the Russian-Belarusian Threats to Poland

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Photo: Permanent threats against Poland have become the norm of Russian political discourse over the past year and a half. Source: Collage the Gaze
Photo: Permanent threats against Poland have become the norm of Russian political discourse over the past year and a half. Source: Collage the Gaze

Since the beginning of Russia's full-scale aggression against Ukraine, Poland has been a strategic NATO state for the Ukrainian resistance, not only helping to host Ukrainian refugees but also serving as a key hub for the supply of Western weapons to Ukraine. All of this could not but attract the attention of the Russian political elite, so permanent threats against Ukraine's western neighbor have become the norm of Russian political discourse over the past year and a half. This included direct threats with nuclear weapons from both former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and political scientist Sergei Karaganov, who is close to Kremlin circles and directly suggested "dropping a nuclear bomb on Polish Wroclaw."

Against this background, the next direction of the Russian side's propaganda activity in relation to Poland is interesting. It is about constant statements that the Polish authorities are planning to "seize Western Ukraine". In particular, this was said not only by representatives of the Russian media, but also by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu personally. This topic comes up all the time, and no one in Russian political circles sees a contradiction in the fact that Poland should be attacked with nuclear weapons because it helps Ukraine, and that, at the same time, Poland itself is planning to attack Ukraine as well.

"Wagner" in Belarus and New Provocations

The intensification of the "Polish issue" in the Russian information space coincided with the consequences of the "rebellion" of the Wagner PMC, which shook up Russian politics in the summer. As a result of the agreements between Putin and PMC leader Yevgeny Prigozhin (mediated by the self-proclaimed President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko), it was announced that the Wagner Group was relocating to Belarus, where it would carry out its new tasks. It was officially stated that the mercenaries would be responsible for training the Belarusian army.

At the same time, during one of his meetings with Putin after the Wagnerites had been relocated, Lukashenko said that the latter were "asking" to raid Poland. In particular, to capture the city of Rzeszów, through which weapons are supplied to Ukraine.

In fact, it was a threat to Poland, which was subsequently developed in both the Russian and Polish information space. In addition to Rzeszów, the target of a possible "raid" by the Wagnerites was also called the "Suwalki Corridor," a district of the Polish city of Suwalki, where a narrow isthmus between the territory of the Russian Kaliningrad region and Belarus is located.

All of this was obviously an information and psychological special operation against Poland, which was later developed further. In particular, during a "training exercise" of the Belarusian armed forces, a Belarusian helicopter flew into Poland and was able to return to its territory unhindered. Attacks on the EU and NATO borders by Belarus involving illegal migrants have also intensified.

Even before the start of the full-scale war against Ukraine, the Russian and Belarusian authorities stormed the borders of Poland and Lithuania with the help of illegal immigrants who were specially brought from the Middle East. Now this story is beginning again.

What the Russian Authorities Want

Of course, this whole situation cannot but cause concern around the world, because we are dealing with "hybrid" attacks on a NATO member state by a Russian ally. Can a "hybrid" attack in this case escalate into something more serious, provoking a real full-scale war between nuclear powers?

It is unlikely that the Russian government's goal in this case is to get involved in a war with NATO. Does anyone in the world now think that NATO and Russia have commensurate military capabilities? The Russian army has shown its real strength in the war against Ukraine, and declaring war on NATO under such circumstances is suicidal.

At the same time, the Russian government cannot help but worry about NATO's continued support for Ukraine. One of the strategic goals of the Russian leadership is to, if not stop the provision of Western weapons to Ukraine, at least significantly limit it. And for this purpose, it may well use psychological pressure on NATO through permanent threats to individual members of the Alliance.

The idea here may be as follows. First, we threaten Poland and Lithuania with a hypothetical "invasion" by the Wagner group. Such a hybrid aggression could force NATO to make a difficult choice. Should it be considered aggression by Russia or aggression by Belarus? Should we respond to this aggression with a military response? Will such a military response lead to the outbreak of a world war?

It is clear that it is better to avoid such questions, which is what the Russian authorities are trying to suggest to NATO with their provocative actions: reduce support for Ukraine so that you do not have to think about how to defend Poland.

What to Expect Next

Poland itself has taken the challenges as seriously as possible and has begun to build up its military grouping on the border with Belarus. Obviously, the Polish government believes that the best option is to simply stop any provocations at the border. Including by military means, if necessary.

At the same time, it is far from certain that someone will actually send armed "Wagnerians" across the border. First, the limits of possible provocations need to be determined, which is what the Russian and Belarusian authorities are currently doing. The appearance of a helicopter from Belarus in Polish airspace is one such example. Next, the incident with Russian missiles entering Poland could happen again. Attempts to break through the border with the help of illegal immigrants may also continue.

In addition to the strategic goal of reducing the participation of NATO states in supporting Ukraine, the Russian government is constantly pursuing tactical goals. For example, to show NATO's weakness and inability to respond to challenges. The entire strength of the North Atlantic bloc rests on the idea that all its members will defend each other in the event of war. For the Russian authorities, it is important to show the conditionality of this readiness, to blur the Alliance's ability to respond to challenges together, which requires constant targeted attacks on its members. In general, the situation looks like limited provocations against Poland by Belarus may continue for a long time, involving new formats. And NATO and the EU should be prepared for this.

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