Polish security forces arrested at least 50 refugees arriving from Belarus overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday (10), further heightening tensions with Aleksandr Lukachenko’s dictatorship.
For its part, the government in Minsk has again accused the West of fabricating the crisis, denying having orchestrated with Russian help the influx of illegal immigrants from war-affected countries in the Middle East and South Asia.
At the same time, a Belarusian envoy to Moscow asked Vladimir Putin’s government for help in offering a “joint response” to the crisis, underscoring the geopolitical character of the dispute.
It has been forming since mid-year, when perhaps 15,000 refugees were drawn to Belarus with the prospect of entering bordering European Union countries such as Poland and Lithuania. Since Monday, Belarusian forces have reportedly been pushing immigrants to leave.
The bloc claims they are being used as pawns by Lukachenko to pressure neighbors in retaliation for sanctions applied to the dictator’s regime for the crackdown that followed his rigged re-election in August 2020.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, in turn, threw open the geopolitical substratum of the issue by blaming Putin directly for the chaos. Warsaw is one of the countries of the EU and NATO (Western Military Alliance) that are more aggressive in the face of what they call Russian neo-imperalism.
The Kremlin denied it and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs counters it with a rhetorical argument, noting that refugees are only because they are fleeing wars that were fomented, as in the Afghan and Iraqi case, by the United States and its allies.
In practice, the chancellor Serguei Lavrov received this Wednesday his Belarusian colleague, Vladimir Makei, who asked for a “joint reaction against unfriendly acts”. The Russian agreed and attacked the US and Europe, but there were no subsequent announcements.
The reality is that any solution goes through Putin, as German leader Angela Merkel, out of office, also highlighted this Wednesday. She asked the Russian to intervene to prevent a humanitarian tragedy.
For now, it is being cooked. Temperatures at the border in question drop below freezing at night and there are perhaps 4,000 people immediately stranded in a strip organized by Belarusian forces, who refuse to pressure the refugees to leave.
In practice, that’s what happened last night. According to reports from NGOs linked to immigration rights, the whereabouts of the detainees are uncertain and at least four Kurdish refugees were beaten by the Poles.
The situation, says the Polish Ministry of Defense, is tense. There are 15,000 to 20,000 national police and soldiers in the region, and Belarus has also moved troops on its side. The fear is that there is an escalating military confrontation between the NATO country and Putin’s main ally.