The refugee crisis on the Belarus-Polish border took on dramatic contours this Friday (12), with the announcement that Russia and the United Kingdom had sent troops to support their respective allies.
Not that there are any intentions side by side of some kind of confrontation between Moscow and members of NATO (Western military alliance), but the risk of the situation getting out of control increases exponentially.
On the other hand, the presence of military personnel from the powers that support the parties to the conflict may help to curb the bellicosity of the thousands of Polish and Belarusian soldiers deployed to the border regions this week.
According to the Ministry of Defense in London, a “small team” was sent to Poland to “evaluate the ongoing situation on the Belarus border”. In a statement, the ministry said that the support will be focused on military engineering missions. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has tried to be more assertive abroad, having sent its new aircraft carrier as a show of force to China to the Pacific and having a warship targeted by Russian warning shots off the coast of Crimea.
In Moscow, the Ministry of Defense reported that a group of paratroopers was sent on an Il-78 transport plane to the Grodno region, where perhaps 4,000 of the 15,000 refugees from Middle Eastern and South Asian countries are concentrated. arrived in Belarus in recent months.
They will do “combat readiness” exercises and then return to Russia. The allies have been increasing the frequency of their military maneuvers since Belarusian dictator Aleksandr Lukachenko faced protests for having rigged yet another election in 2020. The resurgence of internal repression has led the European Union to apply sanctions against the country, which has turned to the guard in the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin.
Over the years, Lukachenko has played on Russia’s need to have him as an ally to maintain a strategic buffer between Moscow and NATO forces, but now the dictator is in his colleague’s hands.
Earlier this year, Belarus became a focal point for refugees from war-affected countries. According to the EU and NATO, the attraction was aimed at creating a situation of instability at the borders of neighbors belonging to the blocs. “The North Atlantic Council strongly condemns the continued instrumentalization of irregular migration created artificially by Belarus as part of hybrid actions aimed at Poland, Lithuania and Latvia,” NATO said in a statement on Friday.
Turkey, the departure point for many immigrants, determined this Friday that citizens of Iraq, Syria and Yemen could no longer fly from the country to Belarus. The companies that make the route, Turkish and Belavia, suspended these shipments immediately.
Ankara was under pressure from his NATO counterparts, suspecting that he was covertly supporting the plan attributed to Lukachenko — or, more clearly, as the Polish government did, to Putin.
On Monday (8), the broth spilled over with a series of attempted invasions by refugees in Poland. With difficulty in face of the evidence, the Belarusian dictatorship denies that it has stimulated the movement and denounces the violence with which Poles treat anyone who manages to enter its borders.
China, land in the middle
Belarus’ Defense Ministry also said on Friday that Poland and its neighbors are looking for an excuse to start a conflict.” Thus, European tensions spread, creating conditions for tactical errors that entail the risk of escalation. This Friday, two Russian Tu-160 nuclear-capable strategic bombers were intercepted in the North Sea, heading for the English Channel.
The giant planes, models similar to those used by Putin on flights over Belarus on Thursday to show support for the dictatorship, were intercepted first by Belgian F-16s and then by British Eurofighters. This type of action is commonplace, but the atmosphere is fiercer than usual.
The US said this week it fears an attempted Russian invasion of Ukraine, a country involved in a dispute with Moscow since 2014, when Putin annexed Crimea.
There are about 90,000 soldiers deployed to Russian areas near the borders of the Donbass, a region in eastern Ukraine that has had a pro-Russian autonomous government since the civil war that broke out after the annexation of the peninsula. The Kremlin’s aim is to prevent Kiev’s integration with Western structures, notably NATO. Like Belarus, Ukraine is seen as an area that gives Moscow strategic depth against opposing forces.
The Kremlin denies its intention to attack its neighbor, as in a similar episode in March, and discards participation in the conception of the refugee crisis. There are still economic considerations. Lukachenko has already threatened to cut off the supply of Russian gas that passes through Iamal, a branch of the pipeline that links Russia to Poland through its territory, which accounts for 27% of the total product sold to Europe.