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Poland Accuses Russia Of Backing Belarusian 'Attack' As Migrant Border Standoff Intensifies

(Article text ©2021 RFE/RL, Inc., Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty - rferl.org - Nov. 9, 2021 - article text also appeared at https://www.rferl.org/a/belarus-poland-border-closed/31552312.html)

Poland has accused Belarus of staging an “attack” on its eastern border and Russian President Vladimir Putin of orchestrating an intensifying migration crisis to destabilize the European Union as hundreds of migrants remained trapped in the open in freezing temperatures at the bloc's eastern frontier.

Polish authorities bolstered the border on November 9 as the migrants gathered on the Belarusian side of the frontier after attempting to break through razor-wire fencing the previous day to enter EU-member Poland.

In recent months, thousands of migrants from the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa have attempted to illegally enter Poland and fellow EU members Latvia and Lithuania from Belarus.

The EU has accused Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka of flying in migrants and funneling them to the bloc's borders to retaliate against Brussels for sanctions imposed over a sweeping crackdown since last year’s disputed presidential election.

"This attack which Lukashenka is conducting has its mastermind in Moscow, the mastermind is President Putin," Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told an emergency session of the Polish parliament on November 9.

"The Belarusian regime is attacking the Polish border, the EU, in an unparalleled manner," Polish President Andrzej Duda said at a news conference in Warsaw earlier in the day.

"We currently have a camp of migrants who are blocked from the Belarusian side. There are about 1,000 people there, mostly young men. These are aggressive actions that we must repel, fulfilling our obligations as a member of the European Union," he said.

Hundreds of migrants shivered in freezing temperatures and huddled around campfires on the Belarusian border with Poland overnight in front of razor-wire fences and lines of Polish border guards blocking their entry into the European Union.

On November 9, Lithuania became the second EU country to declare a state of emergency at its border with Belarus and at camps hosting migrants who arrived from there.

The parliament in Vilnius declared the state of emergency, which begins at midnight local time on November 9 and will a month, allowing border guards to use "mental coercion" and "proportional physical violence" to prevent migrants from entering Lithuania.

Poland has already imposed a state of emergency at the border and increased the number of soldiers and guards to 20,000. Lawmakers have also approved the building of a $407 million wall on its eastern border.

The Polish government posted videos on Twitter on November 8 showing migrants using what appeared to be logs, spades, and other instruments to try to get past a razor-wire border fence.

A spokesman for Poland's special services, Stanislaw Zaryn, said Belarusian security personnel were "firing empty shots into the air, simulating dangerous events."

"We also know the Belarusian authorities are helping migrants to destroy the border barriers. We see how they bring them tools to cut wires... to destroy the fence," he added.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki wrote on Twitter on November 9 that "the stability and security of the entire EU is at stake," and blamed the migrant crisis along the border as a "hybrid attack" orchestrated by Belarus.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he had spoken to Duda about the situation.

"Belarus using migrants as a hybrid tactic is unacceptable," Stoltenberg tweeted. "NATO stands in solidarity and all our allies in the region.”

Lukashenka's government, which is backed by Russia, denies manufacturing the migrant crisis and accuses Poland and the EU of violating human rights by refusing to allow the migrants apply for asylum.

The Belarusian Defense Ministry called the allegations from Poland "unfounded," while the Foreign Ministry issued a statement warning Warsaw "against any provocations.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Lukashenka talked about the refugees at the Polish and Lithuanian borders, the Kremlin press service said on November 9.

In response to the crisis, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on November 8 called on EU member states to “finally approve the extended sanctions regime on the Belarusian authorities responsible for this hybrid attack.”

The EU will explore how to sanction, including through "blacklisting third country airlines that are active in human trafficking,” she said.

The EU said on November 9 that it was pressing more than a dozen countries to prevent migrant flights leaving for Belarus to attempt getting into the bloc. Among those countries were Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Georgia.

Brussels has already pushed Iraq to halt flights to Minsk, the EU said.

Meanwhile, the EU has suspended its visa-facilitation agreement with Belarus over the situation. The suspension of parts of the agreement will apply to Belarusian officials and not affect ordinary citizens, the European Council said on November 9.

With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, and RFE/RL's Belarus Service

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Key Words: Poland, Belarus, Russia, Migrants

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