Myth busted: Is Poland planning to attack Belarus?

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Belarus: 20 February 2017

Recent media reports of an alleged Polish military incursion into Belarus triggered a wave of conflicting explanations and comments in the Belarusian and Russian media. While the Belarusian media tried to find out what’s behind this information, the Russian ones used the topic for propaganda purposes. 

In a message on 4 February, 4th the Associated Press wrote, “According to one U.S. official, national security aides have sought information about Polish incursions in Belarus, an eyebrow-raising request because little evidence of such activities appears to exist.  Poland is among the Eastern European nations worried about Trump's friendlier tone on Russia”

This message has been widely reported elsewhere in the Belarusian media, especially the independent ones. “‘Belarusski Partizan’ quoted  John Schindler, a former US intelligence analyst, who claimed that, ‘So, the  WH is asking for intel about incursions by Poland - a stalwart NATO ally - into Belarus, Which exist only in the Kremlin's sick mind.”   The same portal in the same story cited US journalist Dan Tynan, who asked whether the narrative of the Polish attack is “laying the groundwork for justifying expansionist policies by Putin – to "protect ‘Belarus.’”  Professor Tom Nichols of the US Naval War College said that that the story is “part of a rumor astroturfed by pro-Russian nutcases.” (Astroturfing is the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization to make it appear as though it originates from a grassroot participant.  This term is derived from AstroTurf, a brand of synthetic carpeting, resembling natural grass). Another independent portal,  "Belnovosti,” cited the same AP agency and US Twitter contributors. Neither official Belarusian media nor Belarusian officials commented on that matter.

Relations between Poland and Belarus have long been strained by a dispute about the future of the Polish minority organization, the  Union of Poles in Belarus.  In 2005 the organization  split into two factions: legal, pro-Lukashenko group and and an illegal group recognized by Warsaw. At that time, official Belarusian electronic media regularly claimed that Warsaw wanted to invade and occupy the part of the territory of Belarus, which belonged to Poland before World War II (the western oblasts of Hrodna/Grodno and Brest). The media portrayed ethnic Poles In Belarus, who number between 300 thousand  to 1 million citizens , as a possible "fifth column.”  In this way, Lukashenko sough to create an external enemy to strengthen his political position within the country.  In recent years, however, relations between Minsk and Warsaw have improved. The reasons are, among others, the deteriorating economic situation in Belarus and a parallel worsening of relations between Minsk and Moscow. In this situation, Lukashenko is trying to find support from the other side, eg. the EU.

Russian media, which are available and widely read in Belarus, took different path.  In general, they concluded that since the US special services deny the rumors that a Polish plan it therefore must be true.  The portal “Politobzor”  published a story titled,  "Trump betrays Warsaw: Poland is preparing an incursion into Belarus.” Although the content of the article repeated almost exactly all what was written in “Belarusski Partizan,” the title suggested something different:  that it is obvious that Poland wants to attack its neighbor, Trump inadvertently disclosed  the plan,  and American journalists and analysts criticize him for doing it.  The portal ‘Nasha planeta,’ wrote that "Washington demanded that NATO to reveal plans on incursion on Belarus.”  Although it stressed that the US intelligence services deny that such plans exist, , the suggestion is similar to the previous one:  the question of military action would not have arisen had not the White House known of such plans.  The portal ´””  citing AP, illustrated article with a large photo of Polish soldiers in combat uniforms. The invasions story spread again the background of a gradual improvement of relations between Poland and Belarus. Officials from both countries, for example, have exchanged visits recently. 

Russian media are using the current controversy when the Belarusian Government is absolutely not interested in deteriorating relations with Poland.  If not for the fact that news from Washington were very vague regarding the real facts behind them (why did the White House ask for such Polish plans?) and the Kremlin hopes for Putin's better relations with the new US President, certainly, many official Russian media would write more about the Polish ‘invasion plans’. It would have been easy enough, as in the past it was official Belarusian media arguing, that Poland wants to attack Belarus and occupy its western part.

Play with the “Polish invasion plans” would have been a good way to prevent possible agreement between Warsaw and Minsk and a justification of the need for additional Russian ‘military aid’ to Belarus. Moreover, it would have been a proof that the statements of Russian propaganda of hostile and aggressive attitude of NATO are true. Moscow is very much upset with Lukashenko for his recent flirtation with the West. At the same time, Russia-Poland relations are bad, and Moscow is eager to annoy Warsaw.

Photo: ZUMA Wire/Krzysztof Kaniewski