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Belarus Weekly: Helicopters violate Polish airspace; Wagner moves closer to border

by Maria Yeryoma August 4, 2023 11:23 AM 9 min read
Polish border guards patrol the border with Belarus not far from Bialowieza, Poland, on May 29, 2023. (Photo by WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
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Tensions rise after Belarusian helicopters cross into Polish territory, the country's state border service said on Aug. 1.

Poland also alleges that around 100 Wagner mercenaries are transferred closer to the Suwalki Corridor, bringing tensions to a new high.

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Belarus Weekly

Belarusians gather over half a million euros in a crowdfunding campaign to support political prisoners in Belarus.

A documentary about the 2020 Belarusian protests reportedly prompted additional arrests of the people appearing on camera.

Five Belarusian fighters with the Kastuś Kalinoŭski Regiment and Pahonia Detachment fighting for Ukraine are killed in action.

Two Belarusian helicopters violate Polish airspace

The Polish Defense Ministry confirmed that two Belarusian helicopters entered the country's airspace on Aug. 1.

Photos depicting the helicopters flying over the Polish village of Bialowieza, located on the border with Belarus, appeared on social media earlier in the day, but the military initially denied the incident.

"The border crossing took place… at a very low altitude, making it difficult to detect by radar systems," the defense ministry said afterward.

According to the ministry's statement, the Belarusian side had previously informed Warsaw about the planned training. The Polish National Security and Defense committee was gathered to discuss the incident.

The Belarusian Hajun monitoring group alleged that there is no training in the area involving helicopters.

Defense Ministry: Belarusian helicopters violate Polish airspace
The Polish Defense Ministry confirmed late on Aug. 1 that two Belarusian helicopters violated the country’s airspace during exercises near the border. Photos depicting the helicopters flying over the Polish village of Bialowieza appeared on social media earlier in the day, but the military initially…

The group says the two aircraft were dispatched to the border area with Poland from Machulishchy airfield on July 29, followed by one more the next day, in order to monitor the border during Lukashneko's visit to Viskuli Residence and official presidential country retreat located 7.5 km from the Polish border.

We believe that the pilots of the RB Air Force helicopters could well have flown into Polish territory, but everything points to the fact that it was done accidentally," Belarusian Hajun reported.

After the meeting, Poland's Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak ordered to increase the number of troops at the Polish-Belarusian border and deploy additional equipment, including combat helicopters.

Poland also informed NATO of the airspace violation and decided to summon the charge d'affaires of Belarus to the Foreign Ministry for an explanation.

Poland claims 100 Wagner mercenaries moved toward Suwalki Corridor

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki claimed on July 29 that 100 Wagner mercenaries had been transferred close to Belarus' western border, near the Suwalki Corridor, a 65-kilometer strip of land between Belarus and Russia's exclave Kaliningrad Oblast.

This is a step towards a further hybrid attack on Polish territory," Morawiecki stated, adding that the mercenaries disguised as Belarusian border guards might assist with the artificial migration crisis or attempt to cross the border with Poland.

Belarusian dictator Lukashenko denied the accusations on Aug. 1, saying, "No Wagner detachments of 100 people moved there. And if they did, it was only to train the brigades, which are concentrated in Brest and Hrodna."

Lukashenko went on to claim to have no interest in the Suwalki gap.

Yet just a week before, during the meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 23, Lukashenko was "making jokes" about Wagner Group mercenaries eyeing Poland.

Belarusian Hajun, the monitoring group that has tracked the Russian military's movement in Belarusian territory since the start of the full-scale war, noted that Wagner mercenaries were likely moving to the "Gozhsky" training range located in Hrodna.

Wagner a ‘shadow of what it once was’: Russia security expert on the rage of mercenary boss Prigozhin
After seeming to have calmed down over early spring, the internal conflict between Wagner mercenary group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin and the Russian Defense Ministry has escalated dramatically. In the early morning of May 5, Prigozhin recorded a video in front of what he claimed to be the bodies of doz…

The joint training of Wagner and Belarus troops was previously observed at another training range next to Belarus' western borders, in the Brest region.

On July 27, Morawiecki said Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia could shut their borders with Belarus in case of serious incidents involving the Wagner Group next to the border.

Latvian President Edgars Rinkēvičs said that Latvian border guards should be ready to respond to possible provocations of Wagner mercenaries.

Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anušauskas reminded about the grouping Russia had in Belarus at the beginning of the all-out invasion of Ukraine and suggested that around 3,000 mercenaries do not affect regional security as much.

Following the Wagner Group's failed mutiny in Russia, Lukashenko allegedly brokered a deal to allow Yevgeny Prigozhin's troops to relocate to Belarus. Putin said Wagner mercenaries that did not participate in the armed insurrection would be incorporated into the Russian military.

Record number of illegal migrants tried to breach Polish border from Belarus

The Polish Border Guard reported 292 illegal migrants from Algeria, Sudan, and Sri Lanka attempted to cross into the country from Belarus on July 27.

This is the largest single-day number of migrants attempting to cross into Poland in 2023.

Polish officials suggest that Belarusian border guards are actively helping migrants by providing them with ladders, bolt cutters and guiding them to the least protected areas.

According to Morawiecki, in 2023 alone, Poland recorded 16,000 attempted illegal border crossings from Belarus. On average, nearly 100 crossing attempts are registered daily.

Belarusian State Border Committee responded on July 29 with a video allegedly showing Polish border guards pushing migrants back to Belarus.

Belarusians have been shifting the blame to the Poles throughout the crisis, alleging that Polish border guards forcibly return migrants to Belarus and publishing gruesome videos with dead bodies of migrants found in Belarusian forests next to the border.

Minsk engineered a migration crisis on its borders with the EU in 2021 involving thousands of asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa that arrived in Belarus.

In November, Human Rights Watch published a report detailing the beating, extortion, and sexual abuse faced by migrants in Belarusian detention centers at the border.

Continuous crossing attempts by migrants prompted Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania to build walls along their borders with Belarus.

Russia after Wagner revolt: Will Putin stay afloat or face more turmoil?
The rebellion organized by Russia’s Wagner mercenary group in June is seen by many analysts as a sign of weakness and fragility of Vladimir Putin’s regime. First, several thousand armed mercenaries managed to march for hundreds of kilometers from Rostov to the vicinity of Moscow, and no one

Documentary about Belarusian protests reportedly causes more arrests

Lithuanian media Delfi published a documentary about 2020 protests in Belarus that reportedly led to 15 new detentions.

The Chronology of the Present documentary is directed by Mikalai Maminau and was published on July 24. The film featured footage from the early days of the 2020 protests, with the faces of the protesters not blurred and easily recognizable.

After a public outcry, the video was deleted.

The film's director Maminau argued that the documentary hadn't provided any new footage as Belarusian law enforcers already had it after detaining him in 2020.

However, telegram channels affiliated with the Belarusian State Department on Countering Organised Crime (also known as GUBOPiK) claimed they found at least 10 additional people in the movie to charge.

On July 28, Belarus law enforcement reportedly detained 15 Belarusians that appeared in the documentary.

The video isn't the first case of Belarusian law enforcers suggesting that a media product serves as the grounds for arrests.

However, Belarusian law enforcers have an extensive database from the protests. Between August and November 2020, at least 30,000 Belarusians underwent administrative proceedings for participating in the protests.

To date, Human Rights Center Viasna records around 19 detentions daily.

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Belarusians gather half a million euro in support of political prisoners

A crowdfunding campaign in support of Belarusian political prisoners held on July 29 has gathered over 574,000 euros in financial aid for the growing number of the country's political prisoners.

The funds collected by former political prisoner Volha Harbunova, a member of opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya's team, would be distributed between 13 NGOs helping families of those persecuted on political grounds.

With the officially reported average salary of around $636.4 per month, families spend hundreds of dollars on attorneys and other related services.

The average care package that includes necessities and food for the inmate costs around $250, according to politzek.me, a project designed to support political prisoners in Belarus.

Human rights watchdog Viasna which keeps track of politically motivated prosecutions currently recognizes 1,488 Belarusians as political prisoners.

The real numbers are likely to be higher as families choose not to report their cases, fearing to harm their relatives in custody. Volha Harbunova says that the real number of political prisoners is closer to 5,000.

Lukashenko cracks down on Catholic Church

After Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, special envoy of the Pope visited Belarus in early July, Minsk further deepened the repressions against the Catholic Church.

On July 18, state authorities searched the Minsk Archcathedral in the capital's downtown.

According to the Polish-backed TV channel Belsat, the priests were beaten during the searches. The official reason for the investigation is undisclosed.

Priest Uladzislau Beladzied, a recent grad from a local seminary, spent 45 days behind bars before the search. In May, law enforcers launched a criminal investigation against him.

Pastor Antony Klimantovich became the subject of a smear campaign on state TV and was forced to resign and move to a small Catholic Church in Zaslaue.

On July 19, authorities detained priest Andrey Znoska in Lida, and a priest from Navahrudak, Yury Zheharyn, received a fine on July 17 for reposting "extremist" content.

According to the Christian Vision project, documenting the repressions against religious groups, 55 Christian priests have faced prosecution since 2020. The majority of them were Catholic.

The Belarusian Catholic Church defended the Belarusian people during the protests of 2020. Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz addressed the authorities demanding to stop the violence and release all political prisoners detained during the protests.

In response, the Belarusian regime blocked Kondrusiewicz, a Belarusian citizen, from returning to the country until he resigned from his post. In 2021, the authorities seized his church.

A soldier waves the flag of Kastus Kalinouski Regiment during a rally at Sofia Square on March 14, 2023, in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Photo by Oleksii Samsonov /Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)

Five Belarusian fighters killed in action in Ukraine

On July 31, two Belarusian formations within the Ukrainian army reported losses in their ranks.

Without publishing the names of those killed, Pahonia Detachment claimed one fighter was killed, and the Kastuś Kalinoŭski Regiment reported four Belarusians within the Litvin and Volat battalions killed in action.

Since the beginning of the Russian war against Ukraine, a reported 1,500 Belarusian volunteers have been fighting for Ukraine. Belarusian volunteers face imprisonment in Belarus, while Lukashenko's regime persecutes their friends and families.



The real independence day

The Spotlight segment provides readers with the historical context of contemporary events in Belarus.

On July 27, 1990, the Supreme Council (Viarkhouny Saviet) of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic adopted the Declaration of State Sovereignty.

Although remaining a document with no legal power at the moment, the declaration was a crucial event in Belarusian history.

The document proclaimed the sovereignty of Belarus and proclaimed the supremacy of the republican laws over those of the Soviet, declaring that no political party or individual could speak on behalf of the people other than the elected local Supreme Council.

According to the document, Belarus obtained the right to have its own army and police, as well as an independent foreign policy.

Belarus was proclaimed a neutral and nuclear-free state.

A significant role in the document's creation belonged to the Belarusian People's Front (BNF), a pro-independence organization set to spark a national revival in Belarus.

The organization managed to secure 27 seats in the 360-seated Supreme Council, thus forming a parliamentary fraction that advocated for an even more radical version of the declaration.

A year later, on Aug. 25, 1991, after an attempted coup in Moscow, the declaration was proclaimed the country's new constitution, formalizing the full independence of the sovereign Republic of Belarus.

Belarus celebrated its independence on July 27 for the next four years until Lukashenko proposed changing it to July 3, commemorating Minsk being liberated from Nazi Germany in 1944.

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