Belarus claimed Thursday that Polish aircraft had violated its airspace, prompting Russia’s number one ally to scramble aircraft in response.
The country’s Ministry of Defense said on Telegram: “Around 3.20pm the aircraft crossed the border of the Republic of Belarus, flew to a depth of up to 1.5 kilometers. At 4.22pm, the helicopter repeatedly violated the state border, going 300 meters deep.”
Tensions have been soaring between Belarus and its NATO neighbours since Wagner fighters moved to the country following the mercenary group’s abortive coup attempt in June.
The alleged helicopter violation is the second in a month. Minsk previously accused Poland of violating its airspace after a Mi-24 military helicopter “at an extremely low altitude, flew to a depth of up to 1,200 meters into the territory of Belarus, and then turned back”.
Warsaw denied the claims which saw Belarus summon a Polish diplomat. The month before, a Belarusian helicopter crossed into Polish airspace.
The accusations come amid soaring tensions on NATO’s eastern flank. Following an abortive coup by Wagner mercenaries which saw fighters march on Moscow, the group set up shop in Belarus.
This decision, along with claims by Warsaw that Belarus is sending migrants across its border, saw Poland send thousands of troops to the border with Russia’s closest ally.
Vladimir Putin issued NATO a stark warning after Poland objected to the stationing of Wagner troops. He said: “Unleashing aggression against Belarus would mean aggression against the Russian Federation.”
The sudden death of mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin in a plane crash in Russia last week has raised questions about the future of Wagner, which Poland’s Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski branded “extremely dangerous” and “demoralized”. He also said the mercenaries pose a threat to the citizens of Belarus and the entire region.
Putin has ordered the Wagner fighters to sign an oath of allegiance to the Russian state, according to a decree published on the Kremlin’s website
Poland’s President Andrzej Duda confirmed that Russia began shifting some short-range nuclear weapons to neighbouring Belarus earlier this year, a move that he said will change the security architecture of the region and the entire NATO military alliance.
Warsaw has been backing the Belarusian opposition ever since the 2020 presidential elections, where pro-Russian Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko won a sixth term in a vote that Poland and the wider Western community saw as rigged.
In 2021, Belarus began organizing and pushing thousands of migrants from the Middle East and Africa across the border into Poland. The move is seen by Poland and the EU as planned with the Kremlin and intended to cause instability in Europe.
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