Border Tension on the Belarus-Poland Line

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Recently, the Belarusian-Polish border has attracted attention as one of the tensest border lines in the world. Especially since 2021, the relations between the two countries have been shaped by crises. The dispute between Minsk and Warsaw has been particularly influenced by the movement of irregular migration towards Europe. Because Belarus has recently become an important route in the flow of migration to Europe. The main goal of Poland, which is one of the countries with the toughest stance against migration among the European Union (EU) member states, is to minimize the flow of migrants from Belarus to the country.

In addition to all this, Poland is the center of anti-Russian sentiment in Eastern European geopolitics, while Belarus stands out as Russia’s most important ally in this region. Therefore, this situation reveals how decisive the Russian factor is at the root of the problem between the parties. Currently, the Moscow administration aims to intervene in the demographic structure of Europe through Belarus. In this context, the Kremlin wants to increase its influence in the region through Minsk.

On the other hand, it is known that the border problem on the Minsk-Warsaw line surfaced long before the start of the Russia-Ukraine War. As a matter of fact, the isolation of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko by the West since 2020 has opened the door for Minsk to use the migration card against the EU. Thus, Lukashenko has tried to extract some concessions from the EU on the occasion of irregular migration.

In this context, 2021 has been a year in which relations between Belarus and Poland have been extremely tense. Another issue that has led to tension between the two countries, however, is related to Warsaw’s suggestion that Minsk has a discriminatory attitude towards the Polish minority in the country. In Belarus, which has a population of 9.5 million, Poles constitute about 3% of the population. Before the outbreak of the Second World War, half of the west of Belarus belonged to Poland.[1] According to 2019 data, Belarus claims that there are about 300,000 ethnic Poles living in the country, while the Warsaw administration claims that the real number can be increased to 1.1 million.[2] Therefore, the problem of the Polish minority living in Belarus plays a decisive role in shaping the relations between the two countries at least as much as the migration issue. However, it can be said that the minority issue is ignored due to the migration problem between the parties.

On the other hand, in November 2021, thousands of migrants from various parts of the world wanted to cross the Belarus-Poland border to Poland, which brought the tension between the parties to a peak. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki described the crisis as the biggest attempt to destabilize Europe since the Cold War, while the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) suggested that Belarus was using migrants as a hybrid tactic.[3] Another point worth noting is that on November 4, 2021, Belarus and Russia approved a new military doctrine within the framework of the “Programme of the State of the Union”, including the concept of a common migration policy.[4]

On the occasion of this crisis, the Minsk administration wanted to use the migration factor as a bargaining factor against Brussels. However, Belarus’ move backfired and its relations with the West became tenser.

Poland’s response to Belarus’ move has been to increase border security.   In this context, the Warsaw administration decided to build a wall worth 394 million euros on the border in order to stop the flow of migrants from Belarus in January 2022 and this wall was completed on June 30, 2022. The 5.5-meter-high steel wall, covered with barbed wire, has a length of 186 kilometres.[5]

In addition to all this, the Russia-Ukraine War resulted in a further increase in the tension between the parties. Because in the war in Ukraine, Warsaw has come to the fore as one of Kyiv’s biggest supporters, while the isolation of Minsk has increased even more.

Finally, on February 9, 2023, the border tension between the two countries reached a new dimension. In this context, the Warsaw administration decided to close the Belarus-Poland border gate in Bobrowniki following the arrest of Andrzej Poczobut, a journalist and activist of Polish origin in Belarus.

Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski described Poczobut’s imprisonment as the culmination of the Belarusian government’s repression of the Polish minority in the country, which has been going on since the beginning of 2021.[6]

As can be understood, this shows how important the minority problem is between the two countries. The arrest of the Polish activist by Belarus is one of the factors that led Warsaw to close the border gate.  In this context, it can be foreseen that the situation of the Polish minority in Belarus will continue to create problems between the parties.

In conclusion, it can be argued that the Belarus-Poland border will remain one of the most problematic borders in Europe for a longer period of time. However, it can be said that the minority issue between the two countries will continue to play a role in shaping relations.

[1]  Maria Wilczek, “Lukashenko Plays the Poland Card and Ratchets Up Tensions With Warsaw”, Politico,, (Date of Accession: 13.02.2023).

[2] “Poland to Close Border Checkpoint With Belarus”, Politico,, (Date of Accession: 13.02.2023).

[3] “Poland Says Border Crisis ‘Greatest’ Bid to Destabilize Europe Since Cold War”, VOA,, (Date of Accession: 13.02.2023).

[4] “Putin, Lukashenko Approve Military Doctrine of Union State”, AA,, (Date of Accession: 13.02.2023).

[5] “Poland Completes Belarus Border Wall to Keep Migrants Out”, Associated Press,, (Date of Accession: 13.02.2023).

[6] “Poland Closes Main Belarus Border Crossing and Prepares Further Sanctions for Regime Figures”, Notes From Poland,, (Date of Accession: 13.02.2023).

Cemal Ege ÖZKAN
Cemal Ege Özkan, 2019 yılında Ankara Üniversitesi Dil ve Tarih-Coğrafya Fakültesi Tarih Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Yüksek lisans derecesini, 2022 senesinde aynı üniversitenin Türk İnkılap Tarihi Enstitüsü Atatürk İlkeleri ve İnkılap Tarihi Anabilim Dalı’nda hazırladığı “Türk Siyasi Hayatında Selim Rauf Sarper ve Faaliyetleri” başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Hâlihazırda aynı enstitüde doktora eğitimine devam etmektedir. 2020-2021 yılları arasında Türk Tarih Kurumu Yüksek Lisans Bursiyeri olan Özkan, iyi derecede İngilizce bilmektedir.