Belarus helicopters which violated Poland airspace were ‘escorting Lukashenko’

Two Belarusian helicopters that were spotted in Polish airspace yesterday were escorting President Alexander Lukashenko when they crossed the border, geolocated footage has shown. 

The Belarusian President had been staying in the small village of Viskuli, less than five miles from the Polish border, when on Tuesday morning he travelled to the nearby town of Belovezhsky. 

The two helicopters tasked with patrolling the border to protect Lukashenko on his trip, an Mi-24 and Mi-8, were both spotted over the Polish town of Białowieza during that flight. 

Poland reacted emphatically to the incident, ordering more soldiers to the border, calling the crossing “dangerous” and reporting it to NATO HQ, as well as convening an emergency security meeting of government and military officials. A proportionate response to any other crossings was also threatened. 

But analysts believe the crossing was most likely an “accident” given the proximity of Lukashenko to the Polish border at time, while pro-Russian voices have claimed Poland are exaggerating the significance of the incident to bolster their presence on the Belarusian border.

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One of the two helicopters patrolling the border alongside Lukashenko, the Soviet–era Mi-24, a military gunship, had the number 14 painted on its tail. 

A photo taken by someone on the ground in Białowieza then showed an Mi-24 flying overhead with the Belarusian flag and that same number 14, as reported by the Belarusian Hajun Project. 

Claims from the Polish Ministry of Defence (MoD) that the “Belarusian side had previously informed the Polish side about the training” corroborate the idea that the rogue aircraft were part of a standard escort flight for Lukashenko. 

But agreements between dissident Belarusian analysts and Polish officials diverge at this point; the former believe “everything points to the fact it was done by accident” while the latter maintain it was a “provocative” act.

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Hajun said they believed “targeted provocation” with two combat helicopters was unlikely because it “would be an extremely dangerous step” considering Lukashenko was so close to the border at the time. 

But the Polish MoD, in an updated statement on Wednesday (August 2), said “without doubt” that this was a deliberate attempt to cross. 

Deputy Defense Minister Wojciech Skurkiewicz said on Polish Radio: “Without a doubt, these are provocative actions aimed at the eastern flank of NATO and Poland.

“It’s dangerous. If such situations continue to occur and escalate, then our actions will be adequate to potential threats.” 

The Belarusian MoD outright denied any crossing had taken place at all, saying it “views the report in the manner of an ‘old wives’ tale’”.

Mikhail Zvinchuk, one of the most followed Russian milbloggers on Telegram, who operates under the Rybar, suggested Poland was simply using the claims of a crossing to bolster their forces on the border. 

But while each side disagrees, the Polish citizens near the border are united in anxiety, and it is not just over the incursion. 

One man who lives near Białowieza told that many who saw the helicopters were hesitant to speak out about the issue for “fear of interrogation” from Polish officials.

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