Ursula von der Leyen has described the influx of immigrants at Belarus’ borders with EU countries as a “hybrid attack” by an authoritarian regime on its neighbors.
After meeting with US President Joe Biden in Washington, the President of the European Commission promised to “protect democracies” and said the two leaders shared a common assessment of the situation.
Von der Leyen, who is threatening to impose sanctions on countries that are aiding Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko’s efforts to harm the EU, said efforts are being made to persuade them not to “fall into the trap”.
The EU has accused Belarus of organizing the transport of people from Middle Eastern countries, tricking them into believing they can enter Europe, as part of a campaign to create instability with a new wave of mass migration to the bloc.
“This is a hybrid attack. Not a migration crisis,” the Commission chief said on Twitter.
Several thousand migrants and refugees have set up makeshift camps on Poland’s border with Belarus, in freezing conditions. On Wednesday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Michelle Bachelet, condemned an “intolerable situation” and demanded “immediate” access to humanitarian aid.
Poland’s prime minister accused Belarus of “state terrorism” for its role in the influx of immigrants gathered at the border. Mateusz Morawiecki made the remarks during a joint press conference with European Council President Charles Michel in Warsaw.
He also claimed that Lukashenko was acting out of “quiet revenge” in response to Polish support for the opposition in Belarus. A day earlier, Morawiecki accused Vladimir Putin of orchestrating the influx of migrants.
Belarus and Russia have once again counterattacked against such accusations, Minsk accused the EU and the West of “provoking” the border confrontation.
As the crisis continued to take on an increasingly international dimension, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the Russian president to intervene.
‘600 crossing attempts’
Polish authorities said Wednesday that security forces had thwarted nearly 600 attempts to enter the country in 24 hours.
A Border Guard spokesman said nine migrants had been detained, five Lebanese nationals, three Iraqis and one Syrian, and 48 others had been ordered to leave the country.
Polish broadcaster TVN showed images of migrants, many of them young children, being escorted out of a forest near Narewka in Podlasie in eastern Poland.
Authorities previously said that more than 50 people had been detained after two separate groups crossed the border illegally and entered Polish territory.
Poland’s defense minister said on Wednesday that small groups were still trying to cross the Belarusian border. “The situation is not calm,” Mariusz Blaszczak told Polish radio.
His ministry has accused Belarusian forces of firing into the air in an area where migrants have set up a makeshift camp. The published ministry a video on Twitter with the sound of what sounds like a gunshot.
It is impossible to verify the information independently. Poland has imposed a state of emergency that prevents reporters, activists and any other non-residents from entering a border area.
Lithuania declares state of emergency
In Lithuania, a state of emergency came into effect at midnight, which is to last for a month along its border with Belarus. At least 170 migrants were prevented from entering the country on Tuesday.
The measure restricts the movement of vehicles and imposes a ban on entering a zone five kilometers inland, except for residents. The guards can carry out checks within the area. It also prohibits gatherings in the area and applies to migrants in other places as well, including the capital Vilnius.
The latest developments come amid the most tense period to date, after months of heavy migration across Belarus’ borders with Poland, Lithuania and, to a lesser extent, Latvia. The three countries of the European Union are located on the eastern border of the 27-nation bloc.
Merkel asks Putin to intervene
The German Chancellor said that Merkel spoke to Putin by phone and “underscored the fact that the instrumentalization of migrants against the European Union by the Belarusian regime is inhumane and completely unacceptable, and called on the Russian president to exert his influence on the regime. from Minsk “. .
Russia is a close ally of the Belarusian government. Germany is a privileged destination for immigrants arriving in the European Union.
The Kremlin’s account of the call said Putin “proposed to establish a discussion on the problems that have arisen in the direct contacts of the representatives of the EU member states with Minsk,” adding that Putin and Merkel “agreed to continue the conversation. about the topic”.
Minsk and Moscow reject the accusations
Belarus continued its attempt to blame Poland and the West on Wednesday, a day after Lukashenko accused Poland of waging a “war” against immigrants.
Turning the accusations against Minsk, Foreign Minister Vladimir Makeï said that the migration crisis had been “caused by the EU and its member states bordering Belarus”, and that it was being used as an “excuse” to impose a “fifth round of sanctions”. .
Speaking from Moscow when he met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, Makeï added that the two countries were working for a united response to “hostile acts” against Belarus.
Lavrov agreed, stating that they had stepped up their collaboration “to counter a campaign against Belarus unleashed by Washington and its European allies within international organizations.”
The Kremlin has rejected the allegations by Poland’s prime minister, who claimed on Tuesday that President Putin was orchestrating the influx of immigrants as a “sponsor” of Lukashenko’s actions.
Dmitri Peskov described Mateusz Morawiecki’s comments as “absolutely irresponsible and unacceptable.”
Moscow’s role in the influx of immigrants has come under increased scrutiny this week. The EU said on Tuesday that Russia is among 20 countries suspected of participating in the transport of people to Belarus.
EU leaders allege that Belarus is retaliating for the sanctions the bloc imposed on the authoritarian government in Minsk for its brutal crackdown on national dissent.
Thousands of people were jailed and beaten after months of protests in the wake of last year’s presidential elections that Lukashenko is believed to have rigged to win a sixth term.
EU funds for ‘legally possible’ border barriers
Appearing alongside Morawiecki in the Polish capital, Charles Michel raised the possibility of new EU sanctions against the Belarusian regime, as well as possible measures against the migrants’ countries of origin and the airlines that transport them to Europe.
The consequences of their decisions amounted to “a hybrid attack on the EU,” said the president of the European Council, the body that represents the EU heads of state and government.
“If we are not able to convince with our arguments, we must be ready to decide concrete and operational sanctions because we must be firm, what happened is serious and we must react firmly, we must be united,” he added.
Michel also raised the issue of possible EU funding for physical border infrastructure in member states, which he said was “legally possible” in the Council’s legal opinion.
Lithuania, he noted, had a 600-700-kilometer-long border with Belarus and faced a “totally new situation.”
“Is it possible for the EU to show solidarity by helping them protect their national borders, which are also European borders?” he asked, adding that he hoped the EU could agree on a clear line.
Twelve EU countries wrote to the Commission in October requesting EU funding for border infrastructure. Its president, Ursula von der Leyen, rejected the idea, saying the EU would not fund “barbed wire or walls”.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism