The murder of a soldier by a migrant on Poland's eastern border has shaken Polish public opinion. While the Tusk government finds itself under political pressure, Warsaw is reinvesting in its border defense and hopes to bring up the issue of “weaponized migration” at the NATO summit in July.

On June 6, Polish society was deeply shocked by the tragic death of 21-year-old soldier Mateusz Sitek, who passed away few days after being stabbed by a migrant while on duty at the country's eastern border. The same day, the platform Onet revealed that in late March 2024, two Polish soldiers were arrested and charged for firing shots towards a dozen migrants who presumably were forcing their way in from the Belarusian side of the border.

Defense Minister Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, a key partner in the ruling coalition, has come under fire as a result. A survey found that 85.7% of Poles favor the use of weapons when migrants attempt to forcibly cross the border, reflecting strong support for the Polish soldiers in this affair. President Andrzej Duda and the nationalist-conservative Law and Justice Party have used this sentiment against Prime Minister Donald Tusk's administration, pointing to a supposed lack of firmness and transparency in security matters. 

The Polish border has been under pressure since 2021, but the crisis seems to have reached significant levels again in 2024. Illegal border crossing attempts surged 46% between January and May compared to the same period in 2023. The use of weapons by soldiers and border guards has also dramatically increased, with 1,300 instances in 2024, including 770 in May alone, compared to 320 in all of 2023. 

This escalation points to more organized efforts by Belarusian and Russian networks to channel asylum seekers into Poland and the broader EU. Tusk has indicated that 90% of these migrants hold Russian visas.

Confronted with the resurgence of so-called “weaponized migration”, the Polish government announced the creation of a buffer zone at the border with Belarus. It also eased legal constraints on soldiers’ use of weapons and on the deployment of military units. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Kosiniak-Kamysz has promised increased support for the border guards, including new counterinsurgency capabilities and additional trainings. 

Poland has already undertaken new deterrence efforts on its border with Russia and Belarus, launching the “Eastern Shield” initiative in May 2024. The €2.3 billion plan aims to improve soldiers’ equipment, purchase drones, strengthen military fortifications, and modify land structure. 

The situation requires close coordination among allies. Within the EU, the Polish government may gain some benefit from the newly adopted European Pact on Migration and Asylum, which calls for cost-sharing to finance border fences. Enhanced intelligence cooperation and information-sharing among eastern-flank countries, particularly Lithuania and Latvia, are essential. A meeting of interior ministers in Warsaw would be a positive signal, as the last one was held in August 2023. 

The NATO Washington Summit in July 2024 approaches. Poland, alongside the Baltic countries and Finland—countries that have also been facing the instrumentalization of migrants by Russia and Belarus—will push for clearer support from NATO in the context of hybrid aggression below the Article 5 threshold.