Thousands of migrants are currently stranded in the Eastern borders of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Situated in the forests of Belarus’ Grodno region, many have died of hypothermia due to the forest’s harsh conditions. They are attempting to flee the poor economic conditions of Belarus in favor of a potentially better life in the EU. However, the EU countries have been strict about keeping people out, with Poland sending soldiers to its border to make sure it isn’t crossed.
The European Union has accused Belarus’ president of orchestrating the crisis, as the Belarusian government has been granting an unusual amount of visas to migrants. According to the EU, this is an attempt by Lukashenko to coerce them into removing economic sanctions they previously imposed on Belarus. In the heat of these accusations, airlines have limited flights to Belarus.
The sanctions are in response to Belarus’ actions in May, when its government forced a Ryanair flight to land in order to incarcerate a dissident journalist and his girlfriend. The EU is reportedly working to introduce more sanctions.
Another important player in the crisis is Russian President Vladimir Putin. The country’s position was made clear in a United Nations Security Council meeting on Thursday, 11th November. In this meeting, Albania, the United States, Britain, France, Estonia, Ireland and Norway issued a statement blaming Belarus for what they called “the orchestrated instrumentalization of human beings whose lives and well-being have been put in danger for political purposes by Belarus.” On the other hand, Russian deputy ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy accuses the EU of painting Belarus as the villain only to cover up their own cruelty towards migrants. He later called the European Union’s policy “a total shame and a total violation of any possible international convention.” As one of five veto-players in the Security Council and a Belarusian ally, Russia renders the Security Council unable to take action in this crisis.
Russia has also been showing its solidarity with Belarus through displays of military power. Last Friday, Belarusian and Russian paratroopers were seen going through exercises together in the Grodno region. This was after nuclear-capable Russian bombers had been patrolling the border for two days.
However, the Kremlin has not been shy in going against Lukashenko’s words. After he threatened to cut off Western Europe’s natural gas supply through Russia, President Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry S. Peskov, clarified that “The reliability of Russia as a supplier and a partner on current and future contracts is not in doubt.” As the EU gears to step up pressure on Belarus, the fate of the migrants in the Belarus-EU borders remains to be seen.
On November 18, Belarus decided to ease the pressure by sending all the migrants to a warehouse. Many of them still hope to make it on the other side of the EU border. In the meantime, international tensions are still rising, with Putin building up troops at Russia’s border with Ukraine.