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24 Jul, 2023 20:48

Poland to form new military unit amid tensions with Russia, Belarus

The battalion is expected to “secure” the Suwalki Gap separating the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad from Belarus
Poland to form new military unit amid tensions with Russia, Belarus

A new sapper battalion is to be formed in northeastern Poland by the end of the year, Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said on Sunday. The unit, which will be created “from scratch,” is expected to beef up Polish defenses in the Suwalki Gap, a region separating the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad from Belarus.

“We care about the security of the eastern flank! A sapper battalion will soon be created in Augustow,” Blaszczak said in a Twitter post, referring to the northeastern Polish city located in the Suwalki Gap, which borders Lithuania.

The unit will be just one of many that Warsaw seeks to create in the near future, the minister said in a post that featured a map of eastern Poland with some two dozen locations already hosting or expected to host the “new military units.”

“We know very well that Polish soldiers are the best guarantee of our Homeland's security,” he added.

The formation of the battalion is part of a Polish government program adopted in 2022 to strengthen the armed forces, local media reported. The plan involves creating new units and modernizing existing ones between 2023 and 2025.

Northeastern Poland also hosts “American, British, Romanian, and Croatian” soldiers “training side by side” with Polish forces, Blaszczak told journalists on Sunday, calling the area “a place important from the strategic point of view” and key to the security of both Poland and NATO as a whole. He also called on locals to join the ranks of the yet-to-be-formed unit.

Last week, the minister said that Warsaw expects “provocations” from Russia as he announced the redeployment of some units from western Poland to the east. He specifically mentioned “several thousand Wagner fighters” who had moved to Belarus as a “threat.”

The Wagner group arrived in Belarus as part of a deal with the Kremlin mediated by Minsk that ended a mutiny staged by the company’s founder, Evgeny Prigozhin. The Wagner troops were given the option of either returning to civilian life, signing contracts with the Russian Defense Ministry, or relocating to Belarus, which had agreed to host them.

Later, Belarus’ Defense Ministry confirmed that Wagner members were training Belarusian troops and sharing with them the battlefield experience they gained from the Ukraine conflict. The development sparked concerns in Warsaw, which said it was “closely monitoring” the group’s activities in Belarus.

On Sunday, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko told his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, that the Wagner fighters were keen to “visit” Poland and potentially go as far as Warsaw to settle a score with those they believe are providing Ukrainian troops with military hardware.