Energy SECURITY 22 December, 2023 7:30 am   
COMMENTS: Jarosław Wolski

Wolski: Migration crisis benefits Russia that fuels emotions and destabilization (INTERVIEW)

silnewparcie_na_granicy_15_-1536×960 Migration crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border. Operation Strong Support. Picture by Territorial Defense Forces.

“On the one hand, our hearts go out to the people who are hiding in the forests and are in danger of freezing. However, pragmatism makes us realize that this is an artificial situation created by Putin. On top of that we cannot let the institutional legal order be undermined just because there are many people, in one place, who have been smuggled across Russia,” says Jarosław Wolski, an expert on defense in a conversation with

Border of Finland and Russia, cooperation of Frontex with other services. Picture by Frontex The border crisis is back in the headlines. There are reports of problems at the crossings between Poland and Belarus, as well as Finland and Russia. Are migrants at the border a threat?

Jarosław Wolski: Let us remember that in the case of illegal migration, inspired by the Kremlin or Minsk, it is not the poor people gathered at the border who are the threat. They’re not guilty of anything. These are people who want a better tomorrow, to live in a better world. In their case, that place is Europe. For example, due to the degree of civilizational development, respect for human rights or the social background of migrants. From their perspective, Europe is a better world.

The problem is that the migration procedure, which is the right way to cross borders, is overlooked. It is based on the application for a visa to one of the countries of the European Union. Legalizing irregular migration just because it is numerous is a bad thing. It destroys the legal and migration order established in the EU. In addition, this has been artificially generated by Russia. The Kremlin’s intention is to divide EU countries and deepen divisions. Let’s remember that we have some people who are more sensitive socially, they would accept illegal migrants for purely humanitarian reasons. In addition, this situation makes it easier to turn ideologically minded people against state bodies such as the police, border guards or the military. This is then used by some political options that are eager to engage in this topic. This causes microcracks to appear in a given country.

The last dimension of the risks posed by the migration crisis is purely practical. Mass migration usually exceeds the capabilities of any border guard that is not prepared to operate on such a scale. This makes it necessary to involve the military, so the Russians can observe how the procedures and readiness work in the military units involved. If the soldiers are at the border, they are not in the units, they cannot practice. The military component present at the border must be rotated, soldiers also have holidays and families, they need to be replaced from time to time. Simply speaking this disorganizes the training system at military units. We need to also keep in mind that equipment is being used up. Therefore, the mentioned practical dimension involves upending the training system at military units, increasing the exploitation of equipment, and an opportunity to monitor the activities of various services and military of a given country.

For all these reasons, one must be very careful in assessing the crisis. On the one hand, our hearts go out to the people who are hiding in the forests and are in danger of freezing. However, pragmatism makes us realize that this is an artificial situation created by Putin. On top of that we cannot let the institutional legal order be undermined just because there are many people, in one place, who have been smuggled across Russia.

You mentioned that at the moment of mass migration, the Border Guard alone is not enough, other actors such as the military are involved. How has Poland handled the border crisis? What measures have been taken? How did the procedures work?

In the case of the army, it was a big deal. Nevertheless, it came out on the other side. They saved the situation at the border. The strong involvement of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Poland allowed to mitigate and secure the situation, thanks to which there was no escalation of the situation on the border. But at a cost, one-third of the troops were rotationally engaged, did not exercise and were not preparing for a potential conflict. And that’s exactly what the Russians wanted in the fall of 2021. The Russians planned to occupy Ukraine quickly. What we saw on our border was a cover for the Russian operation in Ukraine. The Polish Army emerged from this difficult crisis unscathed. However, if there was an armed conflict, the Armed Forces of the Republic of Poland involved on the border would have a very big organizational problem. This is exactly what the Kremlin was aiming for.

Now that we mentioned the military, it was also a big test of the Territorial Defense Forces. Did the Terriers do their job?

The Territorial Defense Forces (WOT) participated at a micro-scale, their role was somewhat exaggerated, in 2021 there were relatively few of them involved at the border. But this is an efficient formation, let’s remember that these are volunteers, people who really want o engage. It also turned out that they are quite well trained and well equipped. Often better equipped than professional soldiers, whose equipment was sent to the Territorial Defense Forces.

As a result of the experience gained at the border, the Border Protection Component (KOP) will be established. It is being constructed on the basis of WOT, and will include independent battalions serving precisely the border service. Thus, on the basis of the fact that WOT has proven itself, a new quality is created, in the form of KOP.

Did the Polish Army have the right equipment for such an operation?

Accommodation of soldiers on the border and support was makeshift. The soldiers often brought their own equipment. Military points or places of accommodation looked terribly makeshift. A lot of help was give by the locals, residents of the eastern districts. They were, and still are, very positive about the Polish Army. They see in the soldiers their defenders, who appeared to help them, to protect them. People have greatly supported the army, both in terms of material supplies, and morale.

Should Poland add new means? Is the situation stable?

I believe that the component that is currently at the border should be reduced. Belarusians, for about two months have been clearly de-escalating the situation. There is currently no major migration threat. Of course, small groups try to penetrate the border, but in my opinion there is no reason to keep the grouping in such quantity. There are about five battalions on the border.

Can you compare the situation on the Polish-Belarusian and Finnish-Russian borders?

There are many differences and they are all gigantic. The Finnish-Russian border is incomparably longer than the Polish-Belarusian border. The former one, in many sections, is also characterized by more difficult terrain, in addition, there are also worse weather conditions. Finland also has a lower population density. There aren’t too many similarities. There is the same method of attack, similar execution, but a completely different pitch to play this match. You can say that in one case you play basketball and in the other football.

Interview by Marcin Karwowski