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Lithuania, Poland mull border closure as Wagner fighters gather in Belarus amid Ukraine-Russia war

As a growing number of Wagner soldiers gather in Belarus, neighbouring countries are mulling a border closure. Polish officials said that more than 100 mercenaries belonging to the Russian-linked mercenary group had moved close to the shared border. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki described it as a step toward a “hybrid attack on the Polish territory”. Both Poland and neighbouring Lithuania have said that Wagner soldiers could try to disguise themselves and attempt to infiltrate their territory.

“We have information that more than 100 of Wagner mercenaries have moved in the direction of Suwalki Gap, near Grodno in western Belarus,” Morawiecki told reporters on Saturday. 

“The considerations are real. The possibility of closing the border exists,” added Lithuanian deputy interior minister Arnoldas Abramavičius.

Wagner mercenaries have moved into Belarus under a deal ending the aborted mutiny last month by the group’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin. Morawiecki said its fighters may dress up as Belarusian border guards to assist migrants trying to cross into Poland. He has accused Russia and Belarus of supporting crossings in an attempt to destabilize the country.

The Poland-Belarus border has become a tense place over the past few years as a growing number of immigrants arrived looking for EU entry. They have sought to enter the zone by crossing into Poland and Lithuania. Poland’s government accuses Russia and Belarus of using the migrants to destabilize Poland and other EU countries. It has dubbed the migration a form of hybrid warfare, and has responded by building a high wall along part of its border with Belarus.

Lithuania has also repeatedly warned its Western allies that Wagner mercenaries could disguise themselves as asylum seekers trying to cross Belarus’s borders with EU member states, or stage provocations involving refugees.

(With inputs from agencies)

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Updated: 30 Jul 2023, 05:53 AM IST