Why Belarus is arming migrants at the EU border

A refugee is seen on August 20, 2021 in Usnarz Gorny, Poland. About 32 Afghan citizens are being held at the border by Polish border guards and Belarusian forces.

NurPhoto | NurPhoto | Getty Images

LONDON – EU leaders should pay more attention to Belarus and its militarization of migrants, political analysts told CNBC, raising concerns over Minsk’s close ties to Moscow.

Belarus and the EU have been at loggerheads for some time, especially after Minsk forced a commercial plane to land, arresting two political opponents of the regime who were traveling to Lithuania from Greece. Belarusian authorities argued that this was a security threat that required the plane to land.

All 27 EU member states have stepped up sanctions against Belarus in the aftermath of the incident, but tensions between the two sides continue to simmer.

Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, which share a land border with Belarus, have reported increasing numbers of migrants and refugees, including Iraqi and Afghan citizens, coming from their common neighbor. Lithuania has started building a fence on its border with Belarus, while Poland has declared a state of emergency.

The three countries accused Belarus of bringing in migrants from the Middle East and then sending them across their borders.

It’s a “real headache for the EU,” Bob Deen, senior researcher at think tank Clingendael, told CNBC. He added that the Belarusian regime “exploits a weakness in the EU and arms the refugees”.

Why is it a headache?

Migration is a weak point in European policy.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive body, recently presented a plan to strengthen its response to migration issues. But so far, the bloc relies mainly on help from third countries to stem the large influxes of migrants and refugees. This makes the EU very dependent on countries like Turkey and Belarus.

Until we find common ground on how to deal with migration, our opponents will continue to target this.

Ursula von der Leyen

President of the European Commission

Sergio Carrera, head of justice and home affairs for the CEPS think tank, told CNBC that there is “vulnerability” in the EU with its dependence on other nations.

The bloc “needs a strong policy to deal with this,” he said.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday recognized the need for a stronger and more united approach.

“Look at what happened on our borders with Belarus. The Minsk regime instrumentalised human beings. They put people on planes and literally pushed them towards the borders of Europe. we do not find common ground on migration management, our opponents will continue to target this, “she told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

The committee has supported Lithuania, Latvia and Poland in dealing with the issue, but experts want to know more.

“There are other countries that are observing [that]Vytis Jurkonis, project director at think tank Freedom House, told CNBC last month.

“Today is Belarus, tomorrow it could be Russia,” he said, suggesting that other countries could use migrants and refugees as a means to destabilize the EU.

Added to this are concerns in Brussels about the close ties between Belarus and Russia.

Russia conducted a full-scale military exercise in September alongside Belarus. Up to 200,000 troops were involved, more than 80 planes and helicopters, more than 290 tanks and up to 15 ships, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

The exercise, which took place in nine Russian regions and five Belarusian regions, has been described as one of the largest since the Cold War.

“The further integration of Belarus into the Russian military is a security issue,” Deen de Clingendael said, adding that “the EU cannot just ignore what is happening there”.

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