Aug 9, 2023, 4:32pm EDT

Belarus military drills spark panic in Poland and Lithuania

REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

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The News

Belarus — a longtime supporter of Russia — started military exercises this week in areas near Poland and Lithuania.

The drills are taking place amid heightened security concerns following the exile of Russia’s Wagner paramilitaries to Minsk — part of a deal with Moscow that ended the mercenary group’s short-lived rebellion against the Kremlin.

We’ve curated the latest developments and insights on what the new security threats in Belarus mean for the region.

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  • Belarus recently published footage of Wagner troops leading military drills with Belarusian soldiers — exercises that the country’s Defense Ministry says are drawing on experiences from Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine. Some of these drills are taking place near a stretch of land running 60 miles along the Polish-Lithuanian border known as the “Suwalki Gap” which connects Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia with the rest of the NATO alliance. The area has long been considered a “potential flashpoint” between Moscow and NATO and western military experts worry that Russia might try to “seize the gap” to cut off the three Baltic states from NATO countries. — The Associated Press
  • In response to the precarious situation along the border between Poland and Belarus on Wednesday, Warsaw announced that it would send an additional 2,000 troops to the crossing. Even before Wagner troops arrived in Minsk and caused neighboring countries to panic, the border between Belarus and Poland was the site of numerous illegal crossings. Over the past two years, Poland has accused Belarus of deliberately recruiting and sending migrants across the border to “foment instability.” — Reuters
  • During a visit to the border between Belarus and Latvia, Latvian President Edgar Rinkēvičs similarly expressed anxiety over heightened security concerns and said that guards stationed along the fence needed to prepare for “all kinds of possible provocations in the future,” Polish broadcaster TVP reported. On Monday, Belarusian authorities reportedly helped four migrants enter Latvia illegally. They were later sent back to Minsk.