Cooperation between Poland, Lithuania essential in the face of threats, says Polish premier

Cooperation between Poland, Lithuania essential in the face of threats, says Polish premier

Borders of Lithuania and Poland are about borders of the free world, which stop despotism from the East, says Morawiecki

By Jo Harper

WARSAW (AA) – Cooperation between Poland and Lithuania is essential in the face of “threats and provocations” originating in Belarus, Poland’s premier said on Thursday after talks with Lithuania’s president in northeastern Poland, in a critical area where the three countries’ borders nearly meet.

“Today, the borders of Lithuania and Poland are about the borders of the free world, which stop despotism from the East,” Mateusz Morawiecki told a press conference after meeting with Gitanas Nauseda, Lithuania’s president, in an area called the Suwalki Gap, which also borders the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.

Wagner Group troops have reportedly been arriving in Belarus since their aborted mutiny against Russia in late June. On Saturday it was reported that many are now based near Grodno, 48 kilometers (30 miles) from Belarus’ Polish and Lithuanian borders.

“We spoke with President Nauseda about the threat posed by the Wagnerians. There are about 4,000 of them in Belarus. In this way, the Russians are testing the reactions of Poland and our allies,” he said.

He added that further provocations from Belarus and Russia may be carried out with the help of the Wagner Group.

“Poland responds unequivocally to these Russian and Belarusian provocations,” Morawiecki said, noting that Poland had built a fence along its border with Belarus, Russia’s chief ally in its war on Ukraine.

He noted that this is also being observed in Lithuania and Latvia, two former Soviet republics now bordering Russia.

“This is what (Belarus’ President Alexander) Lukashenko and Putin's provocations, intrigues and plotting are all about,” he argued. “This is what operational activities on their side consist of, to destabilize, to sow ferment, chaos, uncertainty and at the same time show the weakness of NATO's eastern flank to all our NATO partners said the head of the government.”

He added that a few days ago he warned against further provocations related to the appearance of the Wagner Group in Belarus.

“And – as it turns out – we didn’t have to wait long for them,” said Morawiecki. He also spoke about the escalation of tension, referring to the Russian navy exercises in the Baltic Sea.

He noted that Poland remains in constant contact with NATO allies, e.g. with the United States and Great Britain, and this cooperation "includes primarily the exchange of data and joint observation of activities in Belarus."

“We are strengthening the protection of our borders and we will not allow ourselves to be provoked,” said the prime minister. He noted that "for two years, our additional forces have been staying near the border: soldiers and officers whose task is to ensure the security of the border areas."

- Suwalki Gap: What is it?

The Suwalki Gap is a 65-km (40-mi) strip of land between Russia's Kaliningrad exclave and Belarus. Western military have long warned that any attack on NATO could involve an attempt to capture the Suwalki Gap and cut off NATO members in the Baltic states.

The area is hilly and crossed by river valleys and deep lakes, and vast swathes are covered by thick forests and marshes.

Poland joined NATO in 1999 and Lithuania in 2004, resulting in the Kaliningrad exclave being surrounded by NATO states. In the 1990s, Russia sought to negotiate an extraterritorial corridor connecting Kaliningrad with Grodno, Belarus, but the EU refused.

The movement of goods through the gap was disrupted in the summer of 2022 after Lithuania introduced transit restrictions on Russian vehicles as part of the EU's sanctions regime.

In the event of its capture, the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) would be surrounded by Russia, Russian-controlled territories, and Belarus.

Kaliningrad is a heavily militarized area. It is the headquarters of Russia’s Baltic Fleet.

Some 40,000 troops within the NATO Response Force were activated on Feb. 25, 2022, a day after Russia launched its military attack on Ukraine.

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