The real reason Poland went to the ‘Believing Poles’ border post

Written by Staff Writer and By Andrew Pierce for CNN On a bright and sunny morning in January 2018, a procession of empty cars and vans rolled out of the Belarusian city of Volgograd,…

The real reason Poland went to the 'Believing Poles' border post

Written by Staff Writer and By Andrew Pierce for CNN

On a bright and sunny morning in January 2018, a procession of empty cars and vans rolled out of the Belarusian city of Volgograd, with Polish embassy officials behind the wheel.

After almost a year of chaos along their shared border, along with simmering political tension between Russia and Poland, the convoy was a symbolic gesture.

What followed was a growing crisis that raised serious questions about security. The event came to represent the nightmare scenario in which people begin crossing borders for nothing, without verifying their identity or security credentials — a phenomenon known as “illegal border crossings.”

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda and the Polish government took to social media to raise alarm, sending out press releases that detailed Moscow’s response.

Photographs and video images of the Polish officers arrived on Polish television cameras, splashed across the country’s front pages, with the words: “Polish officials crossed the border without authorization.”

“When you see that kind of photo with just one of the cars, you know that there must be something wrong, it can’t be right,” Steve Bowen, a political risk expert and emeritus professor at Cardiff University, told CNN.

Warsaw eventually came to a compromise, agreeing to Russian demands that the Polish civil emergency services provided five transit guards at the border each day — three of whom were security officials.

While some countries, including the UK, have had stringent visa restrictions placed on Russian nationals since the 1990s, Poland went as far as to expel all Russians from its territory last year, accusing Moscow of a high-profile leak of financial information via a Polish businessman.

The “believing Poles” stand on a street in Limnopol, Russia, in February 2018, after a chaotic border between Russia and Poland. Credit: Press-Service of the Russian Federation / Kommersant Photo / Handout via REUTERS

For Poland’s government, the chaos at the border with Belarus was a convenient distraction.

“There are a lot of complicated relations between Poland and Russia, but this is the reason the Polish government wanted to be at the border and deal with the situation immediately, to display the impression of chaos and hysteria,” said Bowen.

“They just wanted to scare us and create the false impression that this was something that was happening within Russia.”

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