Belarus shows NATO member proof about helicopter ‘incident’
Detailed information provided to Poland clearly shows that two Belarusian military helicopters never ventured across the border, the defense ministry in Minsk said on Wednesday.
Minsk “prepared and presented to the Polish side detailed data on objective control of aircraft flights” of both Belarus and Poland on August 1, the ministry said in a statement. “The data of objective control confirm the absence of any grounds for accusation of violation of the state border.”
According to the Belarusian Defense Ministry, the Mi-24 and Mi-8 helicopters “flew at an altitude of 150-200 meters, and their flight path did not come closer than 1,900 meters” to the border. Earlier on the same day, a Polish Mi-2 helicopter came within 200 meters of the border with Belarus, the ministry said, offering as evidence monitoring data from radar stations.
Belarusian pilots were in constant communication with the Polish Air Force during their flights, and received no complaints at the time, the ministry added, noting that any provocations in circumstances where both sides can “unambiguously monitor the movement of aircraft” would be “clearly illogical.”
On Tuesday afternoon, the Polish government summoned the Belarusian charge d’affaires in Warsaw to express a “strong protest” and demand that he “immediately and in detail explain” the incident.
Minsk responded that “no violation of [Polish] airspace” had taken place, and that without evidence, the claim that it had should be considered “the equivalent of a grandmother’s tale.”
The Polish military had initially reported the helicopters had not crossed the border, but later said otherwise. Warsaw said that radar data was not available because the aircraft were flying “at a very low altitude.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has not reached out to his Polish counterpart about the incident, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said on Tuesday. Washington is in “constant communication” with Warsaw, which has made no move to invoke NATO’s mutual defense mechanism yet, he added.
“There is a process that is in place for NATO countries to invoke Article 5; we are not at that stage at this point,” Miller said.
Poland has recently announced an increase in the size of its military, from 170,000 to 300,000, citing the presence of Russian fighters from the Wagner Group in Belarus, where some of them relocated after the failed mutiny at the end of June. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki claimed on Saturday that the arrival of “more than a hundred” Wagnerites near the border was “undoubtedly a step towards an upcoming hybrid attack on Polish territory.”
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko replied that Poland had “gone mad” over rumors about Wagner, insisting that there was no threat.