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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Putin And Lukashenko, Sowing Seeds Of Discord Between Ukraine And Its Ally Poland

Both Russian President Vladimir Putin and longtime ally Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko have issued statements accusing Poland of having territorial ambitions in Ukraine. It's a worrying development that opens the door to military confrontation with NATO — and the looming presence of Wagner troops isn't making things easier.

Photo od ​Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko talking at an event in St Petersburg, Russia, on July 23

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in St Petersburg, Russia, on July 23

Katarzyna Skiba and Michal Kubala

In a notable escalation of rhetoric, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently accused Poland of having territorial ambitions in Ukraine and Belarus, stating that any action taken against Belarus would be treated as an attack on Russian territory. The statement, deemed to be a reaction to Poland deploying troops to guard its eastern border, came just days after the NATO Summit in neighboring Lithuania.

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“Aggression against Belarus will mean aggression against the Russian Federation,” Putin stated at a Security Council meeting, adding that Russia “will respond to it with all means at our disposal”. He also referred to Western Polish lands as “a gift from Stalin”, stating that the Russian Federation “will remind” Warsaw of this.

According to Russian independent news site Agenstvo (agents.media), this was the first time Putin laid out a potential scenario that could serve as a justification for military confrontation between Russia and NATO.

Poland, a NATO member state, has been increasing security along its border with Belarus in response to the presence of Wagner troops within Belarus since Yevgeny Prigozhin was exiled there. A major part of the group’s mercenaries also headed to Belarus, where they set up military camps and are expected to lead joint exercises with the Belarusian army.

In March of this year, Putin stated that Russia would deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus with the first warheads already delivered in June. There have also been rumors of a potential state of emergency to be declared along the border region in response to the ongoing migrant crisis, which has been taking place since 2021.

Territorial ambitions?

Before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Putin regularly referred to Ukraine as historically Russian territories, which Ukraine received as a gift. In the summer of 2022, Putin wrote an essay titled On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians, in which he argued that Ukraine in its current shape and form was the brainchild of the Soviet Union and that Ukrainians and Russians form a “single whole”.

Responding to Putin’s Friday remarks, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki stated: "Stalin was a war criminal, guilty of the death of hundreds of thousands of Poles. Historical truth is not debatable.” Warsaw has also summoned the Russian ambassador to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

On Sunday, July 23, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko declared that the troops stationed along the Polish border “dreamed of taking a trip” into Poland, specifically naming the capital, Warsaw, and the southeastern city of Rzeszow as potential destinations.

“Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but I’ll say it. Wagner has begun to stress us out. They want to go to the West. They are asking me to let them go to the West,” Lukashenko said in his statement, which was given during a meeting with Vladimir Putin. The two leaders, who met to discuss the further development of Russian-Belarusian relations, devoted much of their conversation to Poland, naming it as a potential aggressor.

Russia is trying to drive a wedge between Poland and Ukraine.

Lukashenko echoed Putin’s claims about Poland’s geopolitical aims in western Ukraine. “We cannot allow Poland to occupy Western Ukraine,” he said, adding, “Belarus and Russia should be ready to bring aid” to the region. Neither of them provided any evidence as to the supposed territorial ambitions.

Photo of Members of Armed Forces of Belarus training alongside Wagner soldiers

Members of Armed Forces of Belarus training alongside Wagner soldiers

Voyentv Television Company/TASS/ZUMA

Driving a wedge between Poland and Ukraine

Pavel Latushko is a former Belarusian minister of culture, who is one of the main opposition leaders in the country. According to him, Lukashenko is threatening Poland with a concrete reason. “Lukashenko’s statement about Wagner’s willingness to ‘take a trip to Warsaw and Rzeszow’ has a few motivates behind it,” he said, “the first of which being to create a concrete threat for the countries of the West, including Poland."

“The second reason is showing Poland, arguably the country that has most actively supported Ukraine in the war, in a negative light” on the world stage. An additional reason for this, according to Latushko , is “Lukashenko’s desire to receive financial support from Putin to maintain the Wagner Group in Belarus, because he himself does not have the appropriate funds, and Putin has not yet made a decision on financing the Wagner group”.

Lukashenko “wants to show the usefulness of the presence of the Wagner group in Belarus,” Latushko toldThe Insider.

“Russia is trying to drive a wedge between Poland and Ukraine,” Agnieszka Legucka, an analyst on Russia for the Polish Institute of International Affairs, said in an interview on Polish television network TVN. “The issue of the alleged occupation of Ukraine and Belarus [by Poland] is a very common theme in Russian and Belarusian propaganda,” she added.

Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko at the Valaam Transfiguration Monastery.

Alexander Demianchuk/TASS

Preparing for the worst 

Polish journalist Jarosław Marczuk contends that Putin’s “clear propaganda” is “nothing new”, and has been present since the beginning of the Russian invasion. “Therefore, from our perspective, the timing of this statement” is more pressing for Poland “than its contents”, he wrote for Gazeta Wyborcza.

"Historical truth is not debatable."

For now, the threat does not seem imminent. According to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) think tank, the Wagner troops stationed in Belarus pose no significant threat to either Poland or Ukraine as they handed their heavy equipment off to the Russian defense ministry, following the late June insurrection.

However, as Wagner troops have been holding training exercises mere kilometers from the Polish border, Poland has stated that it plans to bring more troops to the Eastern border. Fellow NATO member Germany has also pledged to stand by Poland in the case of attack.

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food / travel

Legalizing Moonshine, A Winning Political Stand In Poland

Moonshine, typically known as “bimber” in Poland, may soon be legalized by the incoming government. There is a mix of tradition, politics and economics that makes homemade booze a popular issue to campaign on.

Photo of an empty vodka bottle on the ground in Poland

Bottle of vodka laying on the ground in Poland

Leszek Kostrzewski

WARSAWIt's a question of freedom — and quality. Poland's incoming coalition government is busy negotiating a platform for the coming years. Though there is much that still divides the Left, the liberal-centrist Civic Koalition, and the centrist Third Way partners, there is one area where Poland’s new ruling coalition is nearly unanimous: moonshine.

The slogan for the legalization of moonshine (known in Poland as "bimber") was initially presented by Michał Kołodziejczak, the leader of Agrounia, a left-wing socialist political movement in Poland that has qualified to be part of the incoming Parliament.

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”Formerly so-called moonshine was an important element of our cultural landscape, associated with mystery, breaking norms, and freedom from the state," Kołodziejczak said. "It was a reason to be proud, just like the liqueurs that Poles were famous for in the past.”

The president of Agrounia considered the right to make moonshine as a symbol of "subjectivity" that farmers could enjoy, and admitted with regret that in recent years it had been taken away from citizens. “It's also about a certain kind of freedom, to do whatever you want on your farm," Kołodziejczak adds. "This is subjectivity for the farmer. Therefore, I am in favor of providing farmers with the freedom to consume this alcohol for their own use.”

A similar viewpoint was aired by another Parliament member. “We will stop pretending that Polish farmers do not produce moonshine for their own use, such as for weddings,” the representative said, pointing out the benefits of controlling the quality. “Just like they produce slivovitz, which Poland is famous for. It's high time they did it legally.”

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