Friday, November 12, 2021

Russia Sends Warplanes to Belarus Amid Fight With EU Over Migrants (English)

Russia deployed strategic bombers to Belarus’s airspace on Wednesday, amid escalating tensions between Belarus and Poland over a surge of migrants at their shared border and the positioning of several thousand Polish troops on the European Union’s eastern flank.

...Russia took the rare step of dispatching two nuclear-capable strategic bombers to patrol Belarusian airspace in a show of support for its close ally...

Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko said he had asked the Russian Defense Ministry via the Russian president to get involved in duty patrols along the borders of Belarus and the Union State of Belarus and Russia. He made the relevant statement at a conference with top officials of the Council of Ministers on 11 November, BelTA has learned.

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Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “I noticed yesterday that they had sent strategic bombers accompanied by our fighter jets. We should constantly monitor the situation at the border. We don't care about criticism. Yes, those are bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons. But we have no other way out. We have to see what they are doing beyond.”

“As we've agreed: from Moscow to Gomel along the southern border of Belarus, the western border, to Postavy in Vitebsk Oblast, and from Postavy to Moscow via Orsha. Russian and Belarusian military should monitor this ring – the Baltic states, Poland, and Ukraine. It is what Russians and we have agreed on. We cannot joke about it. The situation is serious over there. The key thing is that agreements are neglected. We don't know what they want,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

“Russians, Belarusians should control the situation together,” the Belarusian leader stressed.

..."We have agreed with Russia on that. There is no time for jokes. The situation is very serious there. The most serious thing is that they have departed from the accords. We do not know what they want," Lukashenko said.

As Lukashenko said, "the Russians and Belarusians must jointly control this situation."

Russian strategic bombers were sent to Belarus on Thursday, he said. "We must constantly monitor the situation on the border. Let them scream and cry. Yes, these are bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons. But we have no other way out. We must see what they are doing outside," the head of state said.

The Belarusian Defense Ministry reported on Thursday that two Russian Tu-160 strategic missile-carrying bombers practiced training tasks in the republic’s airspace, including simulated bombing on an aviation training ground. The ministry also issued a statement, pointing to Poland’s inadequate behavior as the Polish authorities amassed 15,000 troops, the armor and air defense capabilities on the border with Belarus over the migration crisis.

As the Belarusian Defense Ministry pointed out, these moves more resemble the creation of a strike group and run counter to bilateral agreements between Warsaw and Minsk.

The migration crisis on the border of Belarus with Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, where illegal migrants are seeking to cross into EU territory, escalated on November 8. Several thousand migrants have approached the Polish border from Belarus and are refusing to leave the area. Some of them have attempted to venture into Polish territory by breaking a barbed wire fence. EU countries have accused Minsk of deliberately provoking the crisis and called for more sanctions against Belarus.

For his part, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has said that Western countries are to blame for these developments because it is their actions that have caused people to flee countries ravaged by wars triggered by the West...


More Belarus sanctions in the works

The EU, which has repeatedly sanctioned Belarus for human rights abuses, accuses Minsk of luring migrants from war-torn and impoverished countries and then pushing them to cross into Poland to try to sow violent chaos on the bloc’s eastern flank.

“We are facing a brutal hybrid attack on our EU borders. Belarus is weaponising migrants’ distress in a cynical and shocking way,” EU Council President Charles Michel said.

The bloc’s 27 ambassadors agreed this constituted a legal basis for further sanctions, which could come as early as next week and target some 30 individuals and entities including the Belarusian foreign minister and the national airline.

“Very rapidly at the beginning of next week there will be a widening of the sanctions against Belarus,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters after a meeting with US President Joe Biden in Washington.

“We will look into the possibility of sanctioning those airlines who facilitate human trafficking towards Minsk and then the EU-Belarus border,” she added.

Biden and von der Leyen addressed the humanitarian situation on the European Union’s border with Belarus and expressed “deep concern about the irregular migration flows”, the White House said. Separately, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “The idea that Belarus would weaponise migration is also profoundly objectionable.”

He said Washington will keep pressure on Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko “as long as the regime is refusing to respect its international obligations, or commitments, as long as it’s undermining peace and security in Europe through its actions and as long as it continues to repress and abuse people...”


Pressure point

The crisis strikes the EU in a vulnerable area.

In 2015, the bloc was deeply shaken by an influx of over a million people fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan that led to deep rifts between member states, strained social security systems and fanned support for far-right parties.

The EU appears more united this time but there are signs of internal friction: some in Brussels have warned Poland that it should not use EU funds to erect border walls and razor wire while others argue the bloc needs to help defend its borders. Michel said on Wednesday the EU needed to make up its mind.

Compared with 2015, the current crisis has an added geopolitical dimension as it is unfolding on the dividing line between NATO to the west and Russia-allied Belarus to the east.

The Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombers that Russia sent to overfly Belarus are capable of carrying nuclear missiles, including hypersonic ones of the kind designed to evade sophisticated Western air defences.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he hoped responsible Europeans would “not allow themselves to be drawn into a spiral that is fairly dangerous”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters she urged Putin in a phone call to use his influence on Lukashenko “because people (migrants) are being used, they have become, so to speak, victims of an inhumane policy – and something has to be done about it”.

The Kremlin said Putin told Merkel that the EU should talk directly to Belarus.

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