RUSSIA has claimed to have carried out a “precision strike” that wiped out 80 Polish fighters in Donbas as tensions between Moscow and the NATO-member country reach boiling point.
The reported losses come on the same day that Russian authorities claimed to have removed a Polish flag from a Smolensk memorial site commemorating the thousands of Poles killed by the Soviet Union.
Andrei Borisov, the mayor of Smolensk confirmed the removal, saying: “There cannot be Polish flags on Russian monuments. Even less so after the frankly anti-Russian comments by Polish political leaders”.
Tensions have been rising between Russian officials and the Polish President Andrzej Duda after he likened Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler.
Poland has also been one of the most proactive countries in supplying weapons and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, as well as taking in the second largest number of Ukrainian refugees – just behind Russia.
In a statement by the Russian Defence Ministry, which could not be independently verified, it said: “Up to 80 Polish mercenaries, 20 armoured combat vehicles and eight Grad multiple rocket launchers were destroyed in precision strikes on the Megatex zinc factory in Konstantinovka’ in the Donetsk region”.
It comes after Moscow was left furious recently over Lithuania’s blocking of EU-sanctioned goods from reaching the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, which is located between the Baltic state and Poland.
The 223 km² territory is Russia’s territory outside of its mainland and is its gate into the Baltic Sea.
Lithuania has now blocked rail transit from Russia and Belarus into Kaliningrad.
The sanctioned products barred from being exported to Russian territory by the EU include construction machinery, machine tools and other industrial equipment.
Regional governor Anton Alikhanov said the ban would cover around 50 per cent of the items that Kaliningrad imports.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the move was unprecedented and that Russia considered it illegal.
Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation and a close ally of Putin’s, said: “Russia will certainly respond to such hostile actions. Measures are being worked out in an interdepartmental format and will be taken in the near future. Their consequences will have a serious negative impact on the Lithuanian population.”
This has prompted Poland to call on NATO to further bolster its security presence in the Suwalki Gap, which connects the three Baltic states to other NATO allies.
Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who is head of Government as opposed to the President who is head of state, spoke at a news conference in Brussels recently.
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During the talks, he said: “We are going to seek the reinforcement of this corridor… in our talks with our partners from NATO”.
Kaliningrad and the Suwalki Gap could be used as ground zero for any military conflict between NATO and Russia.
Experts fear that Putin would immediately move to cut the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia off from the rest of NATO and shore up the isolated exclave from inevitable NATO strikes.
Now, Russia’s claims of killing 80 Polish mercenaries is expected to only add to the already fraught situation.
Poland fully endorsed Lithuania’s blockade of Russian materials to its Baltic exclave and it has since been reported that Russian Railways has temporarily suspended some cargo transit from Belarus to Poland.