The helicopters were spotted by the locals
The tension at the border between Poland and Belarus remains high after two Belarusian helicopters, a Mi-24 and Mi-8, briefly violated the Polish airspace in the Białowieża region on Aug. 1, 2023. The intrusion was initially denied by the Polish Armed Forces that issued released a statement that refuted testimony by locals who had spotted the choppers (as well as an unconfirmed UAV).
However, later on the same day, the Ministry of Defense released a public statement on the incident that confirmed the intrusion:
After the commanders and service chiefs presented conclusions from the analysis of the situation, it was established that today, August 1, 2023, there was a violation of Polish airspace by two Belarusian helicopters that were carrying out training near the border. The Belarusian side had previously informed the Polish side about the training. The border crossing took place in the Białowieża area at a very low altitude, making it difficult to detect by radar systems. Therefore, in the morning announcement, the Operational Command of the Armed Forces Branches informed that the Polish radar systems did not record any violation of Polish airspace.
Mariusz Błaszczak, the Minister of National Defense, chairman of the Committee for National Security and Defense Affairs, ordered to increase the number of soldiers on the border and allocate additional forces and resources, including combat helicopters.
NATO was informed of the incident.
In addition, the Committee agreed that the charge d’affaires of Belarus would be summoned to the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to explain the incident. We would like to remind you that Russia and Belarus have recently intensified hybrid activities against Poland.
Due to possible further provocations, we call for responsible dissemination and commenting on information that may be used by the Russian and Belarusian regimes.
Meanwhile, the Belorussian MoD denies the incident, Reuters reports.
According to the Belarusian MoD stated, claims made by Poland on the airspace violation are far-fetched: according to Minsk, the accusations made by the Polish MoD have an underlying purpose – they are to justify the enhanced military presence on the border. The Belarusian authorities also claim that as the radars did not detect the violation, the evidence of helicopters being spotted over Poland is anecdotic, and has no actual confirmation.
Even though the official narrative is that the potential violation may have been a part of a military exercise taking place in Belarus, it cannot be ruled out that it has been done purposefully, to raise tensions while still remains below the thin threshold of a real aggression. It is also clear that the information chaos surrounding the incident is also created on purpose, to make it impossible to explain what really happened. Let’s not forget Poland has been quite vocal lately with its concerns about the presence of Wagner Group mercenaries along the border and the risk of provocations. As Michal Piekarski, PhD explained:
The Polish air defense system indeed struggles and has issues, but in general, the incident shall be viewed similarly as the flexing of the muscles – as it used to happen during the Cold War, when airspace violations happened on a daily basis. This means that an investigation of the incident is a must anyway, but the problem here is placed in the area of communications regarding what happened. It is not a disaster. A Belarusian chopper landing in Warsaw would be more troublesome.
Summing it up, the violation may have been the result of a navigational error (as many we have seen in the past) or just another act of the current Cold War between NATO and Russia.