The EU accused autocratic Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko’s regime of “gangster” behavior for luring migrants to Europe under “false pretenses” and urging them to enter the bloc illegally.
Tens of thousands of migrants have tried in recent months to enter the EU via Belarus, in a riot that officials believe is orchestrated by Minsk in retaliation for the bloc’s support for Belarus’s opposition.
The crisis, which has been brewing since the summer, it erupted Monday after a group of hundreds of migrants used tree trunks, shovels and scissors to try to force their way to Poland near the border town of Kuznica, where they were repulsed by Polish security forces.
“The way Lukashenko’s regime is carrying out this operation is very inhumane, unacceptable and actually illegal,” EU Commission spokesman Peter Stano said on Tuesday. “The Lukashenko regime is starting to act as a gang regime.”
Poland deployed thousands of troops to its eastern border to strengthen the border guard and closed the checkpoint at Kuznica, one of three crossings to Belarus, on Tuesday morning. Officials estimate that there are currently between 3,000 and 4,000 migrants at the border.
Lithuania on Tuesday declared a state of emergency at its own border with Belarus to prevent migrants from entering.
Warsaw has received EU-wide support, with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen calling on member states to impose further sanctions on Lukashenko. Germany’s Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has urged the bloc to help Poland cope with the boom in migrants.
“What is happening now [is] a hybrid threat, ”Seehofer said in an interview with the German newspaper Bild. “We want controlled migration to Europe, not politically organized migration.”
Commission officials are also considering imposing sanctions on airlines of countries such as Turkey and Russia that they believe are involved in “migrant trade” to Belarus.
However, Lukashenko seems to have been encouraged by the support of his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin after talking to him on the phone on Tuesday and sending his foreign minister for two days of talks in Moscow.
Russian support has been crucial for Lukashenko in repelling a massive spate of protests against his dubious re-election last summer. In return, Moscow has pressured Minsk to adopt a number of economic agreements that bind the two countries closer to each other, the two presidents of which signed last week.
In an interview broadcast on Belarusian state media on Tuesday, Lukashenko said the EU was trying to divert attention from its own domestic problems by blaming Belarus for the crisis and suggested that border tensions could be a predictor. to full military conflict.
“They have problems going through the roof. Nothing to do with us. “People are upset,” said Lukashenko. “How do you sweep it under the rug? By calling someone an idiot, a low-life, a crook, who will attack Poland tomorrow. ”
In a sign of Russian support, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, for his part, said Belarusian forces were treating the migrants “very responsibly” and claimed that the crisis was a setback to Western interventionist policies in the Middle East. East.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has suggested that the EU provide financial assistance to Belarus to encourage it to halt the rise in migrants, comparing the situation with Brussels’ agreement with Turkey during the 2015 migrant crisis. He added that Europe has a responsibility to accept the migrants.
“They do not want to stay in Belarus, they want to go to Europe, that same Europe that has been advertising and promoting its way of life for years. You have to answer for your own words and deeds, “Lavrov said according to Interfax.
Additional post by Valentina Pop in Brussels