Poland moves troops to eastern border amid Wagner fears
PHOTO CAPTION: A soldier assigned to the Polish 1st Brigade Territorial Defense Forces seeks concealment in the wood prior to conducting a simulated assault on a training objective outside Bialystok, Poland, Sept. 6-10, 2022. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Steven Alger via U.S. Defense Visual Information Distribution Service)
WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland began moving over 1,000 troops to the east of the country on Saturday, the defence minister said, amid rising concern in the NATO-member that the presence of Wagner Group fighters in Belarus could lead to increased tension on its border.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to offer mercenary fighters of Yevgeny Prigozhin's Wagner group the choice of relocating to Belarus has led to fears among eastern NATO members that their presence will cause greater instability in the region.
"Over 1,000 soldiers and almost 200 units of equipment from the 12th and 17th Mechanized Brigades are starting to move to the east of the country," Mariusz Blaszczak wrote on Twitter.
"This is a demonstration of our readiness to respond to attempts at destabilisation near the border of our country."
Last Sunday Poland said it would send 500 police to shore up security at its border with Belarus.
Poland has seen an increase in the number of migrants trying to cross the Belarus border in recent weeks. According to the Border Guard, over 200 people tried to cross illegally on Friday, including citizens of Morocco, India and Ethiopia.
Poland has accused Belarus of artificially creating a migrant crisis on the border since 2021 by flying in people from the Middle East and Africa and attempting to push them across the frontier.
A senior Wagner commander was quoted as saying on Saturday that mercenaries from the group were preparing to move to Belarus.
(Reporting by Alan Charlish; Editing by Ros Russell)