Polish-Belarusian border 2021: Flickr
Poland’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday that a Belarusian diplomat was asked to leave the country amid swelling tensions over the imprisonment of a prominent ethnic Polish journalist in Belarus. Foreign Ministry spokesman Lukasz Jasina said the action was taken in response to Belarus recently expelling a Polish border guard liaison officer and two employees of Poland´s consulate in Grodno. Tension between Belarus and Poland has been rising since Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko openly supports Russia´s invasion of Ukraine. The ties between the two countries took a new hit this month when a court in Minsk handed an eight-year prison term to Andrzej Poczubut, a well-known correspondent for Polish media.
Last week, Poland closed the Kukuryki-Kozlowicze border crossing for Belarusian cargo vehicles in response to Belarus’s decision to impose restrictions for Polish drivers entering its territory. Earlier in February, Poland shut down a key border crossing in Bobrowniki citing security concerns. Belarus described the move as catastrophic and warned that it would lead to long waited times and “a collapse” on both sides of the border. Polish Defense Minister Muriusz Blaszczak said that Poland began setting up physical deterrents along its borders with Belarus and Russia as part of its defence strategy. Warsaw has also expelled the Belarusian defence attaché after Minsk told three Polish diplomats to leave the country. The decision to shut down the crossing in Borbrowniki came two weeks after a Belarusian court sentenced Andrzej Poczubat to eight years in a high-security penal colony. He was convicted of harming Belarus’ calling for actions that threaten the national security of Belarus, and “inciting ethnic hostility”. In 2020, Poczobut reported extensively on the massive anti-government protests that broke out following Lukashenko’s disputed re-election in a vote that the opposition and Western countries widely regard as fraudulent. Poland’s Foreign Affairs Ministry condemned the verdict and called on Belarus to stop “using Polish people who live in Belarus as political hostages”.
The two countries are standing on opposing sides regarding the war in Ukraine. While Poland has been one of the most vocal supporters of Ukraine and a go-to pit stop for foreign leaders, officials, weapons and ammunition to go to Ukraine, Belarus is a close ally of Moscow that carries out joint military exercises and host Russian troops. Moreover, Belarus was used as a launchpad for Russian troops during the first days of the war in February 2022.
In 2021, Poland and the European union said Belarus had engineered a refugee crisis on its borders, an accusation Belarus denies. Research of Human Rights Watch has shown that on the Belarusian side, people reported violence, inhuman and degrading treatment and other forms of coercion by Belarusian border guards. President Aleksander Lukashenko states that he would open Belarus´ border to migrants by facilitating visas. This is seen by the European Union as an attempt to destabilise Europe by engineering a migration crisis by flying migrants into Belarus and then pushing them across EU borders.
The increasing tensions between Belarus and Poland are worrying in an already highly tense geopolitical setting. The authoritarian government of Lukashenko has become a rogue state that has improsined activist and journalists. It is pivotal that Poland receives all possible support in countering Belarusian acts of destabilisation.
author: Manouk Bronzwaer