Wagner behind the border: if the “black swans” show up, the consequences could be catastrophic

Lithuanian-Belarusian border. Photo Epso-G

“With Wagner mercenaries hovering close to Poland’s borders, Poles warn that Russia is deliberately trying to destabilise the border region. Lithuania, too, is wary of uninvited guests but reassures that Wagner is, at least for now, more of a noise than a danger. In fact, both experts and politicians agree that underestimating the enemy would be a big mistake. And a “black swan” on the border with Belarus should be avoided at all costs, experts say, Jūratė Važgauskaitė is writing at the tv3.lt news portal.

The increased tensions between Poland and Belarus on the border have also dramatically reduced the number of visitors to one of Poland’s traditional tourist hotspots. The Bialowieza Forest is a national park home to 800 European bison, but this summer, the region has attracted not only tourists but also 100 Russia’s Wagner mercenaries, who are said to be training with the Belarusian army along the border with Poland.

On Saturday, Poland’s Prime Minister warned that Wagner Group troops had approached the Suwalki Corridor, a strategic land gap between Belarus and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.

Poland sees the presence of Wagner forces as the latest in a series of provocations by Russia aimed at destabilising the region. That is why Poland, along with Lithuania and Latvia, would consider closing the border with Belarus.

It is true that this has not yet been done, but if there is even the slightest suspicion that Wagner‘s troops are taking active, provocative action, the border will be closed. Poland has also stated that it will send additional troops to the border to prevent any attempt to provoke an escalation of the border situation.

Lithuania is also keeping a close eye on Wagner‘s movements in Belarus. It is true that we do not need to send additional troops to the border because they are already there. Lithuania is much smaller than Poland, so the troops in Pabradė and Alytus, as well as the NATO allied forces, are, in fact, almost on the border.

The establishment of the Russian mercenary group Wagner in Belarus, close to the Lithuanian border, poses a serious threat, according to the President of Lithuania.

“I have said from the very first reports that Wagner could be deployed in Belarus that we cannot rule out such a threat, even if the main scenarios might be different, or even if we are being led to believe that the scenarios are different and that perhaps Wagner groups will be deployed in Africa or elsewhere. It is really too tempting not to use our presence here, close to our border, for various provocations,” the Head of State President Gitanas Nausėda told journalists on Monday at the border with Belarus in Medininkai.

“That is why I think the threat is serious,” he said. On the other hand, Nausėda insisted that there were no signs or signals that such provocations were being prepared.

Albinas Januška, a signatory and former diplomat, shared on his Facebook account a few days ago that Lithuania should take advantage of the fact that Wagner is causing confusion across the border and ask its allies, such as the Germans, to deploy more troops to Lithuania.

“The real wolves of politics always use a fact of this magnitude for their own interests, in this case, for the interests of Lithuania. They do not deny that it does not exist, nor do they say we should be scared. They propose to act, to take advantage. Do not spend all your energy blowing a bubble. For example, one option is to talk to the Germans (and not only) about the brigade. Sooner, or more, or in advance,” wrote Januška.

He was surprised that Lithuanian politicians rely heavily on intelligence information on Wagner but do not think about “black swan” scenarios, where an accidental incident or a mistake could have catastrophic consequences for Lithuania.

“It is based on a belief in the absolute power of intelligence information. We believe in absolute rationality. Mistakes are not believed. We do not believe in coincidences, in black swan events, in low-probability mistakes with catastrophic consequences for Lithuania,” wrote Januška.

Many reactions, little action

Political analyst Tomas Janeliūnas, referring to the Wagner militants in Belarus and the concerns in Lithuania and Poland, said that “so far, the situation is escalating more through reactions than through concrete actions, unless the leaders have concrete evidence that provocations or something like that are being prepared”.

He said that if one imagines what Wagner troops could do on the border with Poland or Lithuania, one thinks of provocations.

“They could test the reactions of Lithuania and Poland, see how the reinforced border protection works after last year’s experience with the waves of illegal refugees, and carry out test operations.

Of course, our services need to keep an eye on what is going on there because there are well-trained soldiers on the other side of the border. A hundred or a thousand, but they can make a lot of noise. However, I could not see any more of a threat”, said the political analyst.

However, he believes we are negligent in our border security, allowing large flows of people to pass back and forth.

“What is the benefit of this for us as a country in terms of security? I don’t really see. But the possibility of provocations and not-so-visible infiltration into the territory of Lithuania and Poland is certainly there. Closing the borders would be a logical step to stop the risks of possible provocations. It would also be in line with our more global desire to isolate the Belarusian regime as much as possible, to minimise those daily economic relations”, T. Janeliūnas said.

He added that Wagner’s rather abrupt turn to the West shows nothing else but Putin and Lukashenko’s fears about the employment of these soldiers.

“Lukashenko and Putin would rather have such a group of troops targeting their opponents than wait for them to come up with some lame coup again in Russia and Belarus. So, the action is simple, give them something to do because they do not really want to integrate into the regular Russian forces, and there is no chance of getting them all to Africa either, apparently. It is possible that the situation there is difficult in terms of planning operations. So they are given activities that would irritate the West, NATO”, the political analyst said.

According to him, it is clear that the “employment issue” of Wagner has not been resolved yet, which may be why they are being sent to the borders of Poland or Lithuania to test and provoke reactions from NATO countries.

The dangers must be taken seriously

Vytautas Jonas Žukas, a former Lithuanian army commander, says that Putin and Lukashenko have been talking about Wagner troops along the Polish border, which may be why the Poles are reacting more violently.

“Lukashenko has said that Wagner seems to want to go towards Warsaw or towards Rzeszów, where the main arms depots for Ukraine are located. This may be because the speech was about Poland, and the threats were directed towards the Polish side. Maybe that is why there is more anxiety there, although there is no indication that anything is being prepared against the same Poland or against the Baltic States… It is difficult to say whether these threats could be serious. “The Wagner group is disarmed, and a lot of people who come to Belarus go on holiday to Russia. There is not much activity, and we are talking about 100 people being thrown over the Polish border. And that news is not completely confirmed.

Of course, it is good that the Polish army is reacting. The dangers must be taken seriously; it is better to overestimate the enemy than to underestimate him. I believe that information is being exchanged with the Lithuanian side as well. And the distances in Poland are greater than here. In Lithuania, everything is right here, and the Americans are standing 12 kilometres from the border at the Pabradė training ground, monitoring the situation. The Alytus battalion is also on the border, so to speak.

I don’t know what measures the Lithuanian Armed Forces have taken, what measures the Special Operations Forces are taking, but it is guaranteed that some things are happening, the situation is being monitored, and intelligence is being shared,” said the former army chief.

If there are signs that something might be happening, he said, it is likely that action will be taken immediately.

“All allies here, including in Lithuania, receive the same intelligence. I think the action is united. I don’t think that Poland is acting separately, and Lithuania is supposedly doing nothing with Poland.

I think that everything is being done jointly, especially as the intelligence capabilities are American, and they are in Poland and Lithuania. Everything is being monitored. Everything is being evaluated. It is now a matter of congesting everybody at the administrative border. Apparently, there is no need to do so. All the more so as everyone is already here near the border,” said Žukas.

Lithuania and Poland are working together

According to him, if some other conditions arise, if provocations start, then it is possible that the border will be closed as well, as was said a few days ago.

“I do not believe in the possibility of an invasion. There is no indication that there could be a large-scale incursion, but there could be provocations with migrants. Let’s say some people in disguise who would go with them. Maybe some other provocations at the border attempt to provoke some kind of armed conflict at the border. In that case, of course, the border should be closed. Then it is not clear who would be able to get through, whether by train or bus. This would, of course, be a measure of economic pressure”, said the former army chief.

He added that the buses coming to Lithuania from Belarus are, of course, checked, and the possibility that one or another provocateur might try to sneak on board is thought of.

“They are checking documents, which, of course, could be forged. But usually, such “shots” are quite easy to identify. There are features that can be used to identify whether they are just people going shopping, visiting relatives or going to the airport, or whether they are some tattooed and short-cut characters. Border guards are watching, and you can see immediately who is driving.

I do not think that they could try to penetrate that way. <…> If, say, it starts to repeat itself, if you see people with the same build, and the same haircut, starting to take buses across the border, then you can conclude that it is a bad sign. Back when I was an army commander, we were already observing what kind of passengers were arriving and what they looked like.

Because, of course, the ‘little green men’ or the provocateurs can use civilian transport to come in. <…> We have even done exercises like this when US Special Forces troops tried to come to Lithuania by the same route, and it was an exercise, so it was easy enough to identify them at the airports by their appearance. Such people have a specific appearance”, said Mr Žukas.

In Poland, Wagner is also used for election speeches

Political analyst Andrzej Pukszto, speaking about the mood of politicians and the public in Poland, says that Wagner troops across the border do not make Poles happy, but there is certainly no hysteria in Poland.

“The Prime Minister, a couple of days ago, when he was travelling around the province, as the election marathon is about to start, said that Wagner is approaching the Suwałki corridor, which means that there is a possibility of provocations on the Belarusian-Polish border, and that is why Poland is reinforcing its forces on the Suwałki corridor and on the entire border. On the other hand, part of the Polish army is permanently stationed in Gyzycko, which is close to the border with Kaliningrad and close to Suwałki,” the political analyst said.

He added that the issue of Russia, Wagner is received with sensitivity by the Polish public, but at the same time, the ruling party is accused of having used the issue of securitisation for a meaningless election campaign.

“Because the Polish conservatives are constantly emphasising that they have made the Polish army stronger. This casts a shadow because there are elections coming up. On the other hand, the security and war themes are so developed that there is no room for more heat.

I think everybody understands that on one side is Kaliningrad, and on the other is Ukraine. On the other hand, the Polish Government constantly emphasises strong cooperation with the NATO leadership. And at the moment, NATO forces are strongly assisting the Polish army. Let us not forget, therefore, that most of the arms going to Ukraine pass through Poland. <…> There is no panic in Poland about Wagner, but the subject is not under the carpet. It is definitely on the table”, said Pukszto.

The political analyst said Poland has a long history of anti-Putin and anti-Lukashenko sentiment, so the public mood there is corresponding.

“When it comes to Lukashenko, relations have been cold for a very long time. Poland strongly supports the Belarusian opposition and the education of young people in Polish universities. So there is action both locally and in the NATO format. Poland was one of the founding members of the ‘Bucharest Nine’. Poland has constantly spoken about the need to strengthen NATO’s eastern flank. Under the Conservatives, Poland refused a visa-free regime with the Kaliningrad region. <…> Poland is seen as a big fighter against Putin and Lukashenko”, said the political analyst.

In fact, he said, Putin may have been expecting a stormy reaction when he hurled historical accusations against Poland.

“He might want some kind of emotional explosion, a rift between Poles and Belarusians, Poles and Ukrainians or Poles and Lithuanians. But this is where Poland has shown its backbone, stressing that all those historical things are in the past.

In helping Ukraine, the public was very much involved, even though Moscow explained that here you have historical differences. <…> In the last year and a half, 4 million war refugees have passed through Polish territory, and about 1.5 million Ukrainians are currently living in Poland. The Belarusians are also receiving a lot of aid”, said Mr Pukszto, describing relations between Poland and its eastern neighbours.

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