Poland’s Ministry of Defense claims that a Belarusian soldier attempted to fire a flare gun at Polish soldiers on the border between the two countries on Thursday. While the flare gun failed to discharge, the attempt highlights tensions on the border that have spiraled since Warsaw accused Belarus of attempting an armed intrusion into Poland earlier this week.
In a statement posted on Twitter, the Ministry claimed that five other Belarusian soldiers were present 100 meters away from the soldier who attempted to fire the flare gun. The five soldiers are said to have attempted to break down the border fence between the two nations, shouting threats to shoot Polish troops that approached them. However, the Belarusian soldiers retreated after additional Polish troops and border guards arrived at the scene of the incident.
Warsaw had accused Minsk earlier this week of attempting a “deliberate escalation” on the border, after unidentified uniformed men armed with long arms were spotted crossing the border into Polish territory during the night of 1-2 November. In response to the intrusion, the Polish Foreign Ministry summoned Belarusian Chargé d’Affaires Alexander Chesnovsky, as well as issuing a note of protest to the Belarusian Foreign Ministry. However, shortly afterwards, the Polish Defense Ministry claimed that Belarusian troops guarding a group of 250 migrants near the border fence had threatened to open fire on Polish soldiers that spotted the group.
NATO has expressed concern over the intrusion, saying on Wednesday that it urged Belarus to “adhere to international law”. The alliance added that Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was “in close contact with the governments of the allied countries” over the refugee crisis that has unfolded since the enactment of European Union sanctions on Minsk, in retaliation for autocrat Alexander Lukashenko’s crackdown on opposition to a rigged August 2020 election.
In response to the sanctions, Lukashenko’s regime has reportedly begun offering tourist visas to Middle Eastern countries on a massive scale, luring in desperate asylum seekers who are then driven to the borders with Lithuania and Poland. However, tightening security around the national borders have now resulted in asylum seekers becoming stranded in Minsk as well as around the border fence, compounding both their desperation and the Belarusian government’s desire to force them over the border.
Poland’s handling of the crisis has also drawn condemnation from rights groups and the Council of Europe, due to forced pushbacks of migrants that leave them stranded on the border amidst increasingly cold weather. Amnesty International has accused Polish authorities of violating European and international law by forcibly pushing back migrants, in particular a European Court of Human Rights ruling that ordered Warsaw to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants. 10 migrants have been found dead on the border since the summer, with Poland and Belarus disputing whose side of the border the deaths occured on.
While Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights has stated that “Pushing people back, denying them access to fair asylum procedures, or simply leaving them stuck in a humanitarian emergency cannot be the answer of a Council of Europe member state bound by the European Convention on Human Rights, the Refugee Convention and other international human rights instruments”, the odds of Warsaw agreeing are slim thanks to an ongoing dispute with the European Union over the primacy of EU-wide law. The EU considers a ruling by the Polish Constitutional Tribunal (which it deems illegitimate) that the Polish Constitution supersedes EU law as part of a campaign to undermine the rule of law in Poland in favor of the ruling Law and Justice party.