Written by By Staff Writer By Staff Writer
A sharp rise in the number of Polish soldiers deployed to Belarus as part of a NATO training exercise has triggered a new diplomatic row.
The move came as Polish border guards seized Belarusian cargo trucks and migrants from a train carrying up to 5,000 migrants to Germany earlier this month.
The apparent escalation in tensions comes amid a diplomatic spat over Poland’s plans to join the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union.
Poland’s Wprost daily newspaper reported that 600 Polish army troops had deployed to Belarus as part of an international Belarusian-Polish multinational exercise known as “Eukspitome”.
According to the article, these troops are based in a Polish naval base near the southern city of Korsna.
Since October 13, Poland has also deported 10 Belarusians working illegally in Poland, and carried out frequent searches of Belarusian vehicles carrying Belarusian passengers at the border crossing, Wprost said.
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President Ivan Lukashenko, speaking at an official ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of Poland’s independence, said on Wednesday that “the Polish inflow of troops at Belarus’ border seems to have entered a worrying phase.”
Poland’s Foreign Ministry said it had “made clear to the Belarusian side” that it was “disappointed by the open militarization of the border and the continued visit by Polish soldiers to Belarus’ territory without declaring them as NATO partners,” it said in a statement.
Poland and Belarus have been at odds since the Minsk government refused in May to block access to a visa-free regime for nationals of Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
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Alexander Cheveddin, Belarus’ deputy foreign minister, denounced the alleged deployment of troops, saying it “is contrary to a shared goal of Ukraine and Belarus to hold a joint border commission meeting and will decrease trust in both Poland and Belarus.”
Backing a bilateral border commission
Earlier this month, a spokesman for Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko said Warsaw should support a bilateral border commission meeting.
Since 1995, the countries have held joint border commission meetings, after which they agreed to normalize relations and comply with all the norms of interstate law.
Poland borders on four of the countries that have extended visa-free travel to its citizens. Belarus allows a single one-week visit to up to 12 countries, Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.