Date: 5 July 2024,  Author: Maciej Tyburski

The Polish-Belarusian Border: Russian and Belarusian Narratives

In today’s geopolitical landscape, Poland is engaged in ongoing hybrid warfare with the Russian Federation. This kind of offensive operation is a cornerstone tactic for Vladimir Putin, involving spreading disinformation about the border situation and manipulating it to fit the pro-Kremlin policy and narrative.

Hybrid warfare entails “an interplay or fusion of conventional as well as unconventional instruments of power and tools of subversion. These instruments or tools are blended in a synchronized manner to exploit the vulnerabilities of an antagonist and achieve synergistic effects[1]“. In essence, both Central and Eastern Europe, as well as Western Europe, face hybrid actions orchestrated by the Kremlin. However, it’s NATO’s eastern flank that bears the brunt of Russia’s coordinated efforts. The most vulnerable states include Poland, Lithuania, and Estonia––all of them being key allies of Ukraine, with Poland standing out for its rapid response and strong military and economic support for Kyiv. Russia is also targeting Finland, a new member of the North Atlantic Alliance. First of all, NATO’s eastern flank states are undertaking extensive initiatives to bolster border security, including the installation of security guards, walls, and barbed-wire fences. These measures are designed not only to curb illegal immigration but also to enhance the efficacy of border control and surveillance. Additionally, governments have frequently declared a state of emergency in all areas bordering Belarus. Conversely, fully closing borders carries negative economic consequences, such as impeding transit from Asia. Although these safeguards aid in controlling activities in the border area, they cannot entirely prevent illegal immigration. Therefore, these measures are more ad hoc and temporary rather than permanent.

It is worth noting that hybrid actions were traditionally a Russian strategy. However, in recent years and months, Belarus, often viewed as an extension of Russian influence in the region, has also adopted these tactics.

Migration has become a significant challenge for modern Europe, especially since 2015. Migrants and refugees are drawn to European countries for their high standards of living and the comprehensive support provided by the governments. In recent years Poland and other states along NATO’s eastern flank have seen two different types of refugees. Firstly, back in 2021, migrants already attempted to cross the Belarusian border into its EU neighbors. Secondly, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 forced hundreds of thousands––if not millions––of Ukrainians to flee their country and arrive in neighboring central European countries. There is a fundamental difference between these two. Supporting Ukrainian citizens reflects a democratic movement and fraternal aid during times of war, whereas a massive wave of illegal migration from Belarus is an orchestrated scheme to serve the Kremlin’s political agenda. Sadly, this is a textbook example of the use of a demographic weapon. However, we are not just facing a migration crisis; we are also subjected to the aforementioned hybrid warfare by the Russian Federation, bolstered by Alexander Lukashenko, whose dependence on Vladimir Putin grows increasingly stronger by the day, week, and month.

To grasp the full extent of how Russia and Belarus exploit the situation on the Polish-Belarusian border, it is essential to consider who is among those attempting to cross the border illegally. The migrants come primarily from conflict-torn regions of the Middle East and North Africa like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan. Some enter Belarus via Russia, while others, as reported by Belsat TV, the independent channel broadcasting from Poland to Belarus, arrive at the border thanks to a peculiar network of connections. The state-owned company Centrkurort is responsible for bringing migrants from Iraq to Belarus. These people get Belarusian tourist visas and after landing at the Minsk airport, they are placed in hotels in Minsk and finally transported to the Poland-Belarus borders. The trip is a pricey thing for Middle Eastern migrants while some of the money probably ends up in the pockets of the Belarusian secret services. When it comes to migrants, it is clear: their goal is to reach Western Europe no matter what. They are well prepared for the journey. They often have up to several thousand dollars to pay the fee to the smuggler and maps with a carefully drawn route to Germany. The migrants are trapped in forested border areas as Polish border guards block them from entering the country while Belarusian border guards prevent them from returning.

How do Russia and Belarus weaponize immigration? Local services skilfully create dangerous situations at the border, which then corroborate the theses promoted by news outlets loyal to the regime. There have been reports of frequent violent “pushing” of people into Poland. According to services responsible for handling the migration crisis, Belarusian units have allegedly swapped migrants in the most vulnerable zones to additionally sustain the threat.

Lukashenko and Putin are both behind efforts to instrumentalize migrants who have become pawns in an effort by Russia and Belarus to destabilize Europe. The erosion of citizens’ sense of security and the exacerbation of public debate also contribute to a decline in trust in authorities and law enforcement services. Certainly, Moscow has a vested interest in testing the resilience of both the European Union and NATO, especially their flanking states. The purpose of such a maneuver is to ostracize a specific state within the organization and dissuade other governments from any endeavors aimed at expanding the EU and NATO

Furthermore, the deliberate orchestration of the crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border aligns with pro-Kremlin narratives aimed at discrediting Poland, Ukraine’s strongest ally. While Poland’s border guards have decried the increasingly aggressive behavior by some migrants on the Belarus side of the border, the Kremlin has reprobated what it referred to as the inhumane and degrading treatment of migrants and labeled that an inherent feature of a “spoiled” Western world. The death of a Polish soldier stabbed on Poland’s border with Belarus has marked escalating tensions and aggression towards the West. NATO’s eastern flank countries must fortify themselves and remain vigilant to counter further attempts at illegal border crossings and destabilization.

In conclusion, the close cooperation between Moscow and Minsk has its limitations: it is beneficial for Russia as long as it stays secure. If Russia were to become a destination country for migrants returning from the border and seeking to enter, the aforementioned cooperation could cease. It is important to remember that the Kremlin wields a powerful information tool with Russia Today and thousands of social media troll farms, poised to launch a sustained disinformation campaign against states that condemn Russian aggression in Ukraine.


[1] Bilal A., Wojna hybrydowa – nowe zagrożenia, złożoność i „zaufanie” jako antidotum, November 30, 2021, [accessed: June 23, 2024]



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TAGS: migration crisis, NATO, Belarus, Russia


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