MS Risk Blog

Polish Border Crisis

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Key Judgement:

The border between Poland and Belarus has been a focal point of tension since the onset of the Ukraine war, primarily due to Belarus’s alignment with Russia. President Alexander Lukashenko, the long-standing dictator of Belarus, has ruled using tactics reminiscent of President Putin’s strategies. Since the 2020 Belarus crisis and subsequent Russian assistance in quelling political opposition, Lukashenko has closely aligned with Kremlin interests in Eastern Europe.

Poland, with its historical experiences of Russian occupation, maintains a cautious and adversarial stance toward Moscow. Since joining NATO and the EU, Poland has remained vigilant against Russian threats, unlike many Western European nations that have relaxed their defences since the Cold War. Poland’s significant military investments have positioned it as a leading NATO military power. Prior to the Ukraine war, Poland was among the few NATO countries already spending more than 2% of its GDP on defence. By 2024, military expenditures reached 3.9% of GDP, totalling $31.6 billion, making Poland the 14th largest military spender globally. The land forces plan to double in size to 300,000 troops, bolstered by substantial military imports from the US and South Korea, transforming Poland’s post-Soviet military into one of the most modern in the region. Additionally, Poland has transferred significant post-Soviet arms to Ukraine, including MiG-29 jets, modernized T-72 tanks, and Krab 155-mm howitzers. According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy tracker, Poland has donated €3 billion to Ukraine, compared to France’s €544 million contribution.

The previous administration, led by the populist far-right PiS party, maintained a strong stance against Russia, actively supporting Ukraine and leveraging the Russian threat as a political advantage. This anti-Russian sentiment is one of the few issues with broad support within Polish society, and the current administration has not altered its stance on Russia, despite efforts to roll back many PiS policies. Discussions within the current administration about renegotiating military imports have not weakened Warsaw’s firm position against Moscow. The European Parliament election on June 9 saw the Civic Coalition triumph over the PiS party, likely enabling the continuation of current policies.

In light of the ongoing Ukraine war, Poland has emerged as a significant threat to Moscow’s ambitions to reestablish its influence in the region. Poland’s capability and willingness to deter Russian military activities make it a primary target for Russian intelligence operations. On May 14, Prime Minister Tusk announced increased investment in security agencies due to the growing threat from Russian and Belarusian intelligence services. While the Polish counterintelligence agency (BIRN) has not disclosed exact arrest figures related to Russian intelligence, it is known that since the Ukraine war began, 29 individuals have been arrested, and 19 charged with working for Russian intelligence. Notable incidents include the arrest of a Polish man collaborating with the GRU, providing information about Rzeszow-Jasionka Airport, the main hub for military aid to Ukraine, and involvement in an assassination attempt on the Ukrainian president. In January and May, networks attempting to sabotage strategic infrastructure were dismantled. Additionally, “Voice of Europe,” a propaganda network aimed at influencing European politics and public opinion, has targeted Poland, countered by Polish and other security agencies. The largest spy network scandal, involving 16 individuals conducting reconnaissance of key military facilities and critical infrastructure, was uncovered in November 2023.

Given these circumstances, it is highly likely that Russia will attempt to weaponize migrants against Poland using its border with Belarus. Weaponizing migrants has been a recurring Kremlin tactic against Europe to destabilize the region. Recent turmoil at the Finland-Russia border exemplifies this strategy. It is well-documented that Russia and the Assad regime in Syria have used migrant flows to Europe as an asymmetric warfare tool against the West. Russian mercenaries have also facilitated migrant entry from Libya to Europe, exacerbating the Mediterranean migrant crisis. With Russia’s dwindling options to pressure Poland, a large-scale migrant weaponization at the Poland-Belarus border is highly probable.

Tensions in this region have been escalating for years, with the border serving as a gateway for migrants entering the EU. The previous PiS administration publicly committed to defending the border at all costs, a stance that remains unchanged despite the regime change. Poland is currently fortifying its border with Belarus, and the recent tragic death of a Polish soldier, who was stabbed by migrants, has garnered public support for these measures.

The recent European Parliament election saw right-wing parties in Western Europe gain seats, indicating a significant shift in migrant policy in Western Europe. Traditionally, Western European countries have supported pro-migrant policies, while Eastern Europe has opposed them due to bearing the brunt of incoming migrants. Although right-wing party’s lost seats in Eastern Europe, Western influence in Parliament is more substantial, and Eastern European left-wing parties do not align with the pro-migrant stance of their Western counterparts. Therefore, possible

Right-wing parties in Europe have historically been more pro-Russian, and Russia has supported them for years. In this political climate, a massive migrant influx could bolster public support for far-right parties in Europe, potentially influencing election outcomes and disrupting the ongoing Ukraine war. With intensifying Western support and weapons starting to strike targets inside Russian territory, Russia’s desperation is growing.

In conclusion, it is highly likely that weaponizing migrants in Poland will be observed in the next six months, given the current geopolitical dynamics. Russia would actively use migrants to cultivate chaos in Poland, and to support ongoing dominance of right-wing party that could possibly stop or deter support for Ukraine. However it is unlikely that right wing party dominance would led to stopping Ukraine aid in upcoming months. Actual possible difference would be possible after the biggest political event of 2024, which is the US election in November.