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Polish Pranksters or Russian Saboteurs? Train Incidents in Poland Under Investigation

The situation in Poland is a perfect example of the complications geopolitical situations can cause. Over the weekend, there were several disruptions to train travel where fake signals caused all trains in an area to stop.

No one was injured in the incidents, which can be described as nuisance disturbances. Polish media has described it as a cyberattack on the train system, though the incident falls well short of the technical sophistication usually associated with that term. In fact, Wired reported anyone with $30 of widely available equipment who watched a short YouTube video would have the knowledge and means to perpetuate the incident.

Authorities arrested two Polish men in their 20s on 27 August; one of them, according to the Associated Press, was a police officer. The signals used to stop the trains reportedly also broadcast the Russian national anthem.

At the time this report was published, authorities are still investigating the incidents and have not said if they were connected to Russian interference, were a prank, or were part of any other plot. A report from the website Notes from Poland leaned into the prank explanation, but also speculated the widespread nature of the incidents might have been an attempt to sow public fear in an attempt to influence parliamentary elections scheduled for October.

During the last couple of weeks, there have been a few other more dangerous rail incidents. The Washington Post reported that last week there was a freight train collision and derailment—both incidents minor enough that the incidents went almost entirely unreported until the weekend’s disruptions.

Earlier in August, a passenger train collided with a truck near Plonsk, injuring 22 people.

Poland shares a 498-kilometer (309-mile) border with Ukraine and a 375-kilometer (233-mile) border with Belarus, an ally of Russia. It even has a 209-kilometer (130-mile) border with the Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave. (The Polish side of the Kaliningrad border has not been of much note in the ongoing war in Ukraine, but the same cannot be said for Kaliningrad’s border with NATO country Lithuania, which separates Kaliningrad from Russia).

For additional intrigue, throw in an unusual and virulent outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Rzeszow, Poland, on the Ukraine border, that has killed 11 and sickened 144. In an earlier report with older statistics, the AP noted that Rzeszow is a key conduit for getting Western military support into Ukraine.

Other than the use of the Russian national anthem, there is nothing linking any of these incidents directly to sabotage from Russia or Belarus, or to the war between Ukraine and Russia. But the Legionnaires’ outbreak and rail incidents, and just about any other unexplained incidents, will be thoroughly investigated with the suspicion that they could be efforts by Russia or Russian sympathizers to counter Poland’s support of Ukraine in the war effort.