WARSAW, Poland — Poland intends to put 10,000 soldiers along its border with Belarus, the country's defense minister said Thursday as Warsaw worries about the presence of Russian-linked mercenaries in Belarus and migrants trying to cross the border without authorization.
Separately, the Polish military said it was searching an area near the border with Belarus for a lost fuse from a missile but that it posed no threat because “the detonator has built-in protections.” The fuse was lost during "intensive activities using specialized equipment to ensure security,” the military said.
“On Tuesday, after the end of combat flights, one of the helicopters carrying out a patrol in the border area was found to have no fuse in one of the missiles. The flight was carried out along the border strip and did not take place over built-up areas,” the military said in a statement, appealing to residents to alert police if they saw the missing item.
Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said 10,000 soldiers would ultimately be deployed to the border area. He made the announcement in a state radio interview a day after a different official said Poland was sending 2,000 additional troops to the border over the next two weeks, essentially doubling its military presence there.
The soldiers are being deployed to reinforce the work of police and Border Guard officers.
For two years, Poland has contended with migrants arriving at the border from Belarus trying to enter the country illegally. The government in Poland and other countries along NATO's eastern flank have accused President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, an ally of Russia, of opening the migration route in an act of “hybrid warfare” aimed at creating instability in the West.
Poland is also worried about the presence of Wagner group fighters who deployed to Belarus after a short-lived mutiny in Russia in June. Anxieties were further heightened last week when two Belarusian military helicopters briefly entered Polish air space, something Warsaw viewed as a deliberate provocation.
With parliamentary elections in Poland scheduled for Oct. 15, the conservative ruling party, Law and Justice, has tried to demonstrate that it is serious about security as it seeks an unprecedented third term.
A NATO official said earlier this week as Belarus began military training drills near its border with Poland that the Western military alliance was monitoring the situation in Belarus but did not see an immediate threat.
“NATO has significantly increased its defensive presence in the eastern part of the alliance in response to Russia’s aggressive actions, and we continue to do what is necessary to deter any threat and protect every inch of allied territory," NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said Monday.
“We do not see any direct or imminent military threat posed by Wagner mercenaries to our allies, but we remain vigilant,” Lungescu added.
Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed.