Poland’s concern is the threat posed by Belarusian force groups and Wagner Group mercenaries along its southern and central border. This week, two Belarusian helicopters temporarily entered Polish airspace, signaling their desire to intimidate Poland and test NATO’s resolve. That intrusion embarrassed the Polish government and alarmed residents of border towns. The United States and Poland now regularly fly ground-based radar and signal surveillance aircraft designed to identify military formations in Belarus and determine their capabilities and intentions.

Romania’s concern centers on Russian drone attacks on Ukrainian grain warehouses on the Danube river. On Wednesday, an attack on the Izmail warehouse destroyed 40,000 tons of grain. This attack a few kilometers from Romania is in addition to similar incidents last week.

NATO’s concern is not that the forces of Wagner and Belarus could launch a full-scale invasion of Poland. The Polish armed forces are well trained and equipped. They are supported by the US Army’s V Corps, which contributes an artillery brigade, a mechanized infantry regiment, and a combat aviation brigade (including three Apache helicopter companies). The US military also has a brigade of the 101st Airborne Division and elements of the 10th Mountain Division deployed in Eastern Europe. This endows Poland with potent air-to-ground combat power that would annihilate any enemy formation en masse. And even if Vladimir Putin doesn’t care about Wagner,

Belarusian soldiers in exercises with Wagner mercenaries.

On the contrary, the Alliance fears that Russia is increasingly tempted to test NATO’s appetite for a deniable escalation. This is why the US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, recently declared: “Any attack by the Wagner Group will be seen as an attack by the Russian government.” The intention: To make Moscow understand that it will not be able to get away with attacking NATO with the excuse of “It was Wagner, not us!” This Russian test could come about through a skirmish between Wagner and Belarus with Polish border guards.

With Romania, the threat is that of a drone attack on Romanian territory that Russia says was the product of an aiming error. In response, the United States is operating maritime surveillance planes over Romania, monitoring the movements of the Russian fleet in the Black Sea (although the risk aversion of the Biden administration has meant that these planes do not fly in the most optimal areas).

The question? If these forces will be enough to dissuade Putin from carrying out even a timid escalation towards NATO. As the Russian war effort in Ukraine continues to oscillate between defeat and quagmire, Putin’s desire to undermine NATO unity will grow.

Tom Rogan