Mon. Dec 6th, 2021

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki accused Belarus of “state terrorism” for creating a migration crisis on its border and called for EU action against the airlines that bring migrants to the region.

Thousands of migrants have tried to enter the EU via its eastern border in recent months, many of them arriving by air in Belarus from countries including Iraq, Syria and Yemen, some via hubs such as Dubai.

European officials say the uprising is being orchestrated by Belarus’s authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko in a bid to destabilize the EU.

Morawiecki said the EU should discuss “an effective blockade of flights from east to west” without specifying what form it could take. Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said this week that the bloc would investigate “third-country airlines” that take migrants to Belarus.

“There is no doubt that Lukashenko is responsible for this crisis. We need to increase the pressure [on him] through the mechanism of sanctions, ”Morawiecki added.

EU officials are expected to finalize more sanctions against Minsk in the coming days. Belarus is already under EU sanctions after Lukashenko struck down protests last year following his contested re-election.

Morawiecki spoke after a meeting with European Council President Charles Michel, who said it was legal for Poland and other countries to demand that EU funds be spent on border fences and walls.

“It is legally possible for the EU to have a physical infrastructure. But it is a decision that the EU Commission has to make,” Michel said.

Von der Leyen said “there will be no funding for barbed wire and walls” from the EU budget after he came under fire last month by leaders, including Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Denmark’s Mette Frederiksen, at a tense summit.

The commission said EU funds could support member states’ border infrastructure such as surveillance and the use of drones, but ruled out barbed wire fences.

Earlier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to put pressure on the Belarussian regime to stop “instrumentalizing” migrants, calling it “inhuman” and unacceptable. Poland has accused Russia, an ally of Belarus, of having “masterminded” the crisis.

The Kremlin said Putin had suggested that EU and Belarusian representatives meet to discuss the rise of migrants. But Russian officials have also accused the EU of creating a “humanitarian disaster” and trying to “stifle” Belarus by planning to close the border.

Putin has told Europeans to speak directly to Lukashenko, a senior EU official familiar with the Merkel-Putin call said on Wednesday.

“He insists on direct contact with the EU,” the official said. EU officials have not been able to speak directly to Lukashenko since the repression after the 2020 election.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Poland’s claim that Russia was behind the crisis was “absolutely irresponsible and unacceptable”, but added that Moscow “already provides all necessary assistance to Belarus”, according to Interfax.

The crisis on the Polish border has been smoldering for months, but erupted on Monday when a group of hundreds of migrants tried to break through the border near the village of Kuznica en masse.

Poland’s Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said on Wednesday it was “not a quiet night” at the border. The border guard said 599 attempts had been made to cross the border, with nine people arrested and 48 expelled from Poland.

Polish officials estimate that there are about 3,000 to 4,000 migrants at the border, many in temporary camps.

Human rights groups have criticized the Polish government for passing legislation allowing the return of migrants found on Polish territory to Belarus.

Additional post by Max Seddon in Moscow

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