Poland rushes troops to border, Belarus denies helicopter violation

Residents of areas near the eastern Polish city of Bialowieza, close to the Belarus border, shared accounts on social media of what they said were border violations before the defence minister issued its statement.

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Belarus has allowed Russian President Vladimir Putin to use its territory as a launch pad for the Ukraine invasion, but Lukashenko has not committed his own troops to the war.

The ex-Soviet state has a long history of animosity with Poland, as does Russia.

Last week, Putin accused Poland of harbouring territorial ambitions on Belarus and said it would consider any attack on its neighbour as an attack on itself.

Earlier on Tuesday, Lukashenko mockingly told Poland it should thank him for keeping in check Wagner mercenaries now stationed in Belarus after an abortive mutiny against the Kremlin last month.

An unspecified number of the Wagner fighters have since moved to Belarus and begun training Lukashenko’s army. Poland had already started moving more than 1,000 of its own troops closer to the border.

Lukashenko joked at a meeting with Putin last month that some of the fighters were keen to press into Poland and “go on a trip to Warsaw and Rzeszow”.

State news agency Belta quoted him on Tuesday as saying that the Poles “should pray that we’re holding onto (the Wagner fighters) and providing for them. Otherwise, without us, they would have seeped through and smashed up Rzeszow and Warsaw in no small way. So they shouldn’t reproach me, they should say thank you.”

Rzeszow is a city near the Ukrainian border.

On Saturday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said a group of 100 Wagner fighters had moved closer to the Belarusian city of Grodno near the Polish border, describing the situation as “increasingly dangerous”. 

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