Borderlands on fire. How Poland is defending the EU
There is no doubt that Belarus is conducting a hybrid war against Poland. The border is being protected not only by border guards, but also the army and Territorial Defense Forces1. What are they doing there and are we in danger of a “hot” military conflict?
If there are instances of weapons being pointed at our soldiers, if security fortifications are being destroyed, then it is an obvious act of aggression and we cannot simply leave it be and pretend it does not exist. We must conclude that we are in a state of war, that Belarus is the aggressor, and call it, in the form of an ultimatum, to cease actions of this sort” – this proposal of resolving the crisis at the border was put forward by the former deputy minister of defense professor Romuald Szeremietiew during an interview on Polish Radio 24.
This statement was made at the beginning of October this year. Nothing seems to indicate that Polish authorities are planning to adopt such radical steps. The comments of Szeremietiew had wide coverage in the Belarusian media. Minsk is constantly instigating provocations at the border. Belarusians are aiming their weapons at Polish border guards, reloading their weapons, and even fired their first shots. Fortunately, using blank ammunition. Thus, Lukashenko is doing a lot to provoke a nervous reaction from the Polish side and aims to create a border conflict, and he will try to blame Warsaw for triggering it. The situation is tense.
From the beginning of September, the border with Belarus is not only protected by border guards but also soldiers – Polish Land Forces as well as Territorial Defense Forces. – Currently, the border encompasses 4.7 thousand soldiers, including 2.7 thousand soldiers from the 16th Pomeranian Mechanized Division and soldiers from specialized engineering and sapper units, as well as approx. soldiers from the 12th Szczecin Mechanized Division – tells “DoRzeczy” Major Marek Nabzdyjak, press officer of the 16th Pomeranian Mechanized Division. – Due to the continued pressure exerted by the migrants on the eastern national border, the soldiers of the 16th Mechanized Division and 12th Mechanized Division are providing their support to the Border Guard, protecting the country border and preventing its migrants from crossing it, using among others observation and protection posts and conducting joint marching and mobile patrols with the Border Guard along the Polish-Belarusian border on the indicated segments, and access roads to and along the country border – he adds.
Moreover, the soldiers are building a fence in the form of an engineering dam – a 2,5m fortification. – Currently, 135 km of vertical fence and 151 km of a horizontal dam was built, simultaneously a forest fence is being constructed to protect animals from injury (245 km of fence was built on both sides). At the same time, observational and security outposts are also being built – informs Major Nabzdyjak.
Reaction to new threats
A reporter of the “Rzeczpospolita” newspaper, Marek Kozubal, believes that, “on this territory the army is conducting various military maneuvers in case of a legitimate threat of a military conflict”. – The soldiers that I indicated do not undertake any other tasks, however during previous weeks, training and support tasks were carried out by separate forces and resources from the 25th Air Cavalry Brigade for the benefit of the tasks carried out by units of the 16th Mechanized Division. – says the press officer of the 16th Mechanized Division.
The soldiers are not only protecting the border but are also training – performing maneuvers. At the beginning of October, the Minister of Defense informed about maneuvers that were taking place in Orzysz, Szudziałów, Nowa Dęba, and Biała Podlaska, involving soldiers from the 6th Airborne Brigade Brig. named after Brigadier general Stanisław Sosabowski and the 25th Air Cavalry Brigade. During the conference, organized by the Defence24 portal, the operational commander of the Polish Armed Forces, General Tomasz Piotrowski, admitted: “In the face of a hybrid war, currently there is no place for traditional military maneuvers, that is in locations we are familiar with, but in a natural environment, in places where it is possible to cooperate with secret service and non-governmental organizations to combat new threats”.
The border is also being protected by Territorial Defense Forces. – A lot of the tasks are being performed by the brigade soldiers, who live in regions where a state of emergency was declared, i.e. in the First Podlaska Territorial Defense Brigade and the 2nd Lubelska Territorial Defense Brigade, however these brigades are also supported in numbers and in equipment by other brigades of the Territorial Defense Forces (e.g. by delegating unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicles, lighting masts, or scows (flatboats) – tells “DoRzeczy” Colonel Marek Pietrzak, press secretary of the Territorial Defense Forces. Each day the border is being protected by about 800 soldiers of the TDF. These numbers change depending on the needs of the Border Guard to receive support in a given moment.
Territorial Defense Forces are helping to protect the border with Belarus as part of the operation Strong Support. At the beginning of September, Mariusz Błaszczak [the Minister of Defense], ordered to increase the combat readiness of the TDF. “If needed at any time, even 23,000 TDF soldiers can join in the operation ‘Strong Support’ and protect the borders. I made a decision to change the readiness status of the TDF to immediate readiness for duty. The soldiers will appear in the units with even six hours of a potential summon.” – declared the Minister of Defense on Twitter.
Operation “Strong Support” is officially in progress from September 3rd. Its purpose is to “strengthen the resilience of local communities in the border region against hybrid threats”. The assumed aim of TDF is thus to help both the Border Guard, as well as the residents of the border territory. On October 6th, the press officer of the TDF Command, Colonel Marek Pietrzak, summarized the first weeks of the operation. At first, the actions of the TDF soldiers focused on direct contact with local government officials, representatives of local communities, e.g., village leaders, as well as residents of areas encompassed by the state of emergency. These actions were conducted by the soldiers of Support Assessment Teams – the help of which was utilized many times before e.g., in the process of removing the effects of crisis situations
1 Territorial Defense Forces are the fifth military branch of the Polish Armed Forces, followed by the Land Forces, Air Force, Navy, and Special Forces. They are made up of professional as well as amateur (part-time, volunteer) soldiers.
The full version of this article was published in November 2021 in “Do Rzeczy” weekly magazine.