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Fact check: Are Wagner fighters disguised as migrants?

Kathrin Wesolowski
August 1, 2023

Social media users claim Wagner mercenaries are allegedly entering Poland disguised as migrants. The Polish news channel Polsat News is said to have reported on this. But is this claim accurate? A DW fact check.

Two soldiers standing in a forest bending down looking at a backpack
Fears in Poland are rising as Wagner mercenaries based in Belarus edge closer to its borderImage: Voyentv TV/TASS/dpa/picture alliance

Scaring Poland: that was probably the goal of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin when they met in St. Petersburg on July 23. Lukashenko said that mercenaries from the Russian Wagner Group, currently based in Belarus, would like to make "a trip to Warsaw and Rzeshov." 

Polish politicians and the Polish media reacted promptly. Additionally, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki commented on the possibility that the Wagner Group may be on its way toward the Polish border. Morawiecki stated that he has information that more than a hundred Wagner Group mercenaries were advancing toward the Suwalki gap, which is on the border of Lithuania and Poland between Kaliningrad and Belarus.  

Meanwhile, allegations are circulating online about how Wagner mercenaries are already allegedly entering Poland almost unnoticed.    

Are Wagner mercenaries really entering Poland 'dressed as' migrants?   

Claim: "The Wagnerians are entering Poland as migrants - claims Polsat News," users posted on X (previously known as Twitter). They are referring to the Polish media outlet Polsat News as the alleged source of that information. "People are sure that illegal immigrants from Belarus are entering the country, who are in fact fighters of the PMC Wagner," one of the users adds.   
DW fact check: Unproven 

The tweets refer to an interview with the Belarusian opposition politician Pavel Latushka, who lives in exile in Warsaw. On July 28, he was a studio guest on a TV show of Polsat News. In the studio talk, he does not speak of Wagner mercenaries from Belarus entering Poland "as migrants" on a factual basis. He offers only assumptions.   

In the interview, Latushka says that there may already be several thousand Wagner mercenaries in Belarus. He adds that one could imagine "that Lukashenko's and Putin's plans may be to direct Wagner mercenaries 'dressed as' migrants and provoke a local conflict on the border of a NATO country." It is clear Latushka speaks of it on a hypothetical basis, not as fact.

Latushka's press team confirmed this in a message to DW: "Mr Latushko did not claim that Wagner's mercenaries 'dressed as migrants' were entering Poland. There is no evidence of this."

What did Poland's prime minister say?

Prime Minister Morawiecki also took up the issue on July 29 during a visit to a defense factory in Gliwice. There, during a press conference, he made two assumptions about the Wagner mercenaries in Belarus. 

First, Morawiecki said, "They will probably also try to enter Poland by posing as illegal immigrants." Secondly, Wagner mercenaries would "probably" disguise themselves as Belarusian border guards and "help illegal immigrants enter Polish territory in order to destabilize Poland."   

These claims are mere conjectures about the future without any evidence. The right-wing populist ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party consistently attracts attention with anti-migrant claims.   

Meanwhile, political experts say that Russia's and Belarus' threats against Poland are staged. Russia, they say, is trying to reduce support for Ukraine with its threats against Poland. 

"Both Putin and Lukashenko are trying to influence them, including with threats, so that voters swing in the 'right' direction, namely toward those forces that are saying as part of their election campaign that Poland's role in the war is wrong, and it is necessary to move away in order to prevent a Third World War," Ryhor Nizhnikau, a senior research fellow at the Finnish Institute on International Affairs.

Conclusion: There is no evidence that Wagner mercenaries from Belarus are entering Poland disguised as migrants.  

Correction note: This article was updated on August 2. The meeting between Lukashenko and Putin took place on July 23, not July 21.

Edited by: Michaela Cavanagh