July 31 – August 6, 2023
Belarus-West relations

Poland and Lithuania are preparing for a complete blockade of Belarus; the EU has introduced a new package of sanctions

The situation got worse
Poland and Lithuania are preparing for a complete blockade of Belarus; the EU has introduced a new package of sanctions

An incident where Belarusian military helicopters violated Polish airspace led to an expected escalation of tension between Belarus, Poland, and the Baltic countries. Vilnius and Warsaw expect an increase in provocations from Russia and Belarus and are preparing for the complete closure of land borders with Belarus. Against this background, the EU is introducing a new package of sanctions against Belarus, bringing restrictions in line with the sanctions regime against Russia. The bans are aimed at preventing the circumvention of sanctions against Russia through Belarus.

According to Polish reports, on August 1st, two Belarusian helicopters violated Polish airspace. In response, Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak ordered an increase in the number of soldiers on the border and the allocation of additional forces and equipment, including helicopters, which will be deployed “for rapid reaction”.

The Polish Foreign Ministry summoned the Belarusian chargé d’affaires, registered a strong protest, and informed NATO. However, the protest was not only about the helicopter incursion. It also dealt with the escalation of actions against Ukraine, border security threats posed by Wagnerians, and attacks by organised groups of migrants on Polish border guards. Warsaw stressed that the incident is seen as another tactic to escalate tension on the Polish-Belarusian border, and Poland expects Belarus to refrain from such activities.

The Belarusian Ministry of Defence denies that the Belarusian Mi-24 and Mi-8 helicopters violated Polish airspace, characterising the Polish claims as far-fetched. Belarusians stated that the violation was not confirmed by “objective control data”.

The interior ministers of Poland and Lithuania held telephone talks, discussed border security issues, and agreed on a plan for joint reaction to emerging threats from Belarus, up to the possible closure of all border crossings and the complete isolation of the Lukashenka regime. Both Vilnius and Warsaw expect the number of provocations by Russia and Belarus to grow.

In response to the redeployment of the Wagner PMC to Belarus, Lithuania is planning to close two of the six checkpoints, specifically the “Šumskas” (from the Belarusian side “Losha”) and “Tverečius” (“Vidzy”) crossings. However, the closure of all border checkpoints is a matter of time; everything is prepared for complete closure, and Poland does not rule out similar actions.

Meanwhile, the hunt for members of a Russian spy network in Poland continues with the detention of a 16th suspect, Belarusian citizen “Mikhail A.”. Warsaw alleges he was engaged in reconnaissance of Polish military facilities and ports and propaganda in favour of Russia.

The European Council has adopted new sanctions to prevent the circumvention of sanctions against Russia through Belarus. These measures expand the ban on the export to Belarus of “dual use” goods and technologies and a ban on firearms and ammunition, microelectronics, and goods and technologies suitable for use in the aviation and space industry. The prohibitions apply to exports and providing technical assistance, intermediary, financial, and other services to any individuals, legal entities, organisations or bodies in Belarus.

The changes also bring sanctions against Belarus in line with those against Russia. The new EU sanctions package includes 38 individuals and three enterprises (Minsk Electrotechnical Plant OJSC, OJSC “BSW — management company of “BMC”, Belneftekhim).

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry characterised the new EU sanctions as an attempt to interfere in internal affairs, reserving the right to retaliate. In addition, the Foreign Ministry said that sanctions are useless and ineffective, and the actions of the EU and allies “created a real threat of a food crisis on the planet”.

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Once a week, in coordination with a group of prominent Belarusian analysts, we provide analytical commentaries on the most topical and relevant issues, including the behind-the-scenes processes occurring in Belarus. These commentaries are available in Belarusian, Russian, and English.

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