WARSAW, Poland — Amid a rapidly escalating border row with Poland, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said he has renewed his request with Russian President Vladimir Putin to acquire Iskander missile systems for his country’s armed forces.
“I’m currently bothering your president, I need to have here missile launchers with [a range of] 500 kilometers,” Lukashenko told Russian military magazine Natsionalnaya Oborona in an interview published Nov. 13. “I need several divisions in the west, in the south, let them stand there. This is [to gain a range of] 500 kilometers, because our Polonez [missile launcher] is [enabled with a range of] up to 300 kilometers.”
The distance between the Belarusian capital Minsk and Poland’s capital of Warsaw is about 546 km (339 miles). In addition to Russia, which makes the Iskander missile system, variants of the weapon are used by the armed forces of Armenia and Algeria.
The authoritarian leader’s request comes as ties between Poland and Belarus have become increasingly strained over the past weeks. The European Union and NATO have condemned the repressive regime for bringing migrants into the country to seek illegal entry into Poland, leaving thousands of people stranded at the border. With tempers flaring and temperatures falling, the result has been a sporadically violent standoff on top of a humanitarian crisis brewing on Europe’s eastern doorstep.
Marcin Przydacz, Poland’s deputy foreign minister, said Nov. 15 the situation at the Polish-Belarusian border is unpredictable, accusing Russia of having a hand in it. “The risk of escalation is real and high,” he said during an online panel discussion hosted by the Washington-based Atlantic Council. “Neither Minsk nor Moscow are interested in de-escalating this crisis.”
Lukashenko’s call for help from Russia means he is walking a fine line between maintaining his regime’s independence — which he considers crucial to his political survival — and aligning himself with Moscow to a degree that could make him superfluous in Putin’s eyes, said Valery Kavaleuski, a Belarusian opposition aide speaking at the Atlantic Council event.
Sebastian Sprenger in Washington contributed to this report.
Jaroslaw Adamowski is the Poland correspondent for Defense News.