During a December 2 online session of the Collective Security Council of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), an intergovernmental military alliance between Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko spoke about several issues, including the political unrest that has gripped his country for months.
Lukashenko once again accused external actors of aggravating the situation at home. He attacked Poland and the Baltic states for what he described as their “rabid behavior” towards Belarus, which he said was intended to “ensure the realization of their own interests” and boost “their importance in the European Union.”
Lukashenko claimed Western neighbor Poland was interfering in his country’s affairs because it doesn’t view Belarus as an independent nation.
“The issue is, I quote, Belarusian land belonging to Poland. That is already declared openly. Can I as the President and the Belarusian [people] agree with this? It turns out that where we live today, this land do not belong to us. [It’s clear] they’re acting in this direction,” he said.
Lukashenko did not specify who in Poland is stating this position openly.
In August, Lukashenko similarly claimed Poland was seeking to annex Belarus’ northwestern region of Grodno, prompting a strong rebuke from Polish presidential aide Krzysztof Szczerski.
“These comments are unacceptable. No one has such intentions in Poland, and this is propaganda,” Szczerski told Polskie Radio.
Lukashenko further claimed without evidence that a “NATO military grouping” is being set up “to seize these lands” in order to create a buffer between Belarus and Russia.
However, Russia is the only country that has discussed deploying security forces to Belarus in light of recent unrest there. Lukashenko said the two countries could join arms if faced with a Western threat.
Likewise, Belarus is the only former Soviet country to form a union state with the Russian Federation. Lukashenko himself alleged this year that Russia was seeking to incorporate Belarus into its territory in exchange for unified energy prices. And in the summer of 2018, Lukashenko put his fears of Russian incorporation in starker terms, alluding to Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine:
“We are on the front line. If we don’t survive these years, if we will fail, it means we will have to become part of some other state, or they will simply wipe their feet on us. God forbid they unleash another war, like in Ukraine.”
While it is true that Poland in the past controlled territory comprising modern day Belarus (as well as Lithuania and Russia), there is no evidence that present-day Poland has sought to reincorporate Belarusian territory.
Poland was one of the first countries to recognize Belarus’ independence on December 27, 1991. The following year, the 1992 Treaty on Good-Neighborly Relations cemented the basis for bilateral relations.
As Radosław Sikorski, the former Polish minister of foreign affairs and current European parliamentarian, told the BBC:
"We were citizens of the same federal state, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, for more than four hundred years, one of whose languages was Belarusian … It's only natural for Poland to take an interest in Belarus, and there is agreement on this across the political spectrum.”
Following the Soviet Union’s collapse, Poland successfully pursued integration into Europe as Minsk pursued closer ties with Moscow. That, at times, has put the two countries at loggerheads.
Warsaw has assisted civil society programs in Belarus for well over a decade, including support for Belarusian media outlets based inside Poland. The Polish government has been at the forefront of pushing tough European Union action against the Lukashenko regime, as well as supporting Belarusian opposition demands for free and fair elections and the release of political prisoners.
Protests erupted in May after Lukashenko, often referred to as the last dictator in Europe, decided to run for a sixth presidential term. Since Lukashenko came to power in 1992, elections in Belarus have been widely viewed as being rigged to benefit him.
Tensions came to a head following the August 9 vote, in which Lukashenko claimed 80 percent of the total. This sparked the largest protests in the country’s history, which in turn triggered a fierce crackdown by government security forces.
Poland announced it would give 50 million zlotys ($13 million) to advance civil society in Belarus and open its borders and labor market. Lukashenko immediately accused Poland, among others, of directing the opposition. Russia’s foreign ministry likewise blamed the protests on “outside meddling.”
In September, after Lukashenko deployed half of the Belarusian army to the country’s borders with Lithuania and Poland (following a smaller deployment in August), the Polish defense ministry announced it had no territorial claims on Belarus.
The ministry stated that it supported the democratization and sovereignty of Belarus, adding that the country’s crisis could only be solved within Belarus.
"We do not see any justification for the actions in the military sphere declared by Minsk. We believe that the false claims of a threat from the West are calculated to have a propaganda effect inside Belarus. Poland does not make any territorial claims against other states, including Belarus," the ministry said.
On October 6, Poland and Lithuania withdrew their ambassadors from Belarus days after the European Union sanctioned 40 Belarusian officials for their role in violently suppressing protests.
Those sanctions were expanded to include 59 individuals, including Lukashenko and his son, Viktor. On November 19, the EU announced a further round of sanctions against Belarusian officials and entities.
On December 3, Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya, who ran against Lukashenko in the presidential election, said in a statement that the “regime is falling apart.” Currently exiled in Lithuania, Tsikhanouskaya said she is ready to take the helm of her country during a transition period.
She said a coordinating Council and Cabinet of Representatives across various fields working in the interest of Belarusians had been set up. Earlier this week, Tsikhanouskaya said the opposition was compiling a list of abuses committed by Belarusian law enforcement.
More than 300 people were arrested in the latest demonstrations, which have at times have drawn hundreds of thousands of people.