International 10/11/2021

EU raises tone against Lukashenko, accuses him of being a "gangster"

Brussels also criticises Poland's lack of "transparency" in managing the border with Belarus

3 min
A group of migrants watch a helicopter at the border between Belarus and Poland.

BrusselsIn Brussels the tone against Aleksandr Lukashenko's regime in Belarus is getting louder and louder. For months now Poland, Latvia and Lithuania have been warning that thousands of people are being pushed across their borders by the Belarusian regime. However, the situation has worsened in recent days, and the European Union is even clearer that Lukashenko is looking for blackmail after several rounds of sanctions against him and his entourage for having violated democratic principles and human rights in his country. After having accused him of "cynicism" and of "instrumentalising" migrants, on Tuesday the Union has directly described him as a "gangster" because he plays "with people's lives for political purposes".

In fact the EU, with the European Commission at the forefront, seeks ways to stop these "gangster" actions with the monitoring of flight patterns and migratory routes in around thirty countries where it has been detected (or there are indications) that the Belarusian authorities, through embassies or official agencies, seek "potential travelers" to offer them visa and organised travel to Minsk to "launch" them, then, at the borders of the EU. This was explained by one of the spokesmen of the EU executive, Peter Stano, who mentioned countries such as Morocco, Syria, Iran, Qatar, Somalia, India, Sri Lanka, Algeria, Libya, Yemen, South Africa and even Venezuela. It is estimated that around thirty flights from these countries arrive in Minsk every week.

The EU's goal now is to "raise awareness" among the citizens of these countries so that they do not fall into the "trap" of the Belarusian regime. Vice-President Margaritis Schinas plans to make a number of trips to some of these countries, although the planning has not yet been finalised. In the summer, Stano explained, the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, had already travelled to Iraq, the main country of origin, to discuss the issue. The meetings ended with the suspension of a few flights from Iraq to Minsk. One of the avenues Brussels is currently exploring is to suspend flights or increase controls on flights to Belarus from some of these countries.

Brussels defends that if Lukashenko acts in this way, it is precisely because the EU policy against his regime hurts where it has to hurt: "We have reasons to believe that it works, we have introduced four rounds of sanctions against 166 people and also against fifteen entities responsible for violating human and democratic rights, and we have also applied sectoral sanctions", Stano has defended. It should be recalled that the EU even chose to to isolate Belarusian air space following the hijacking of a Ryanair flight to detain journalist Roman Protasevich.

Poland avoids European supervision

The European Commission has also made available to Poland, Lithuania and Latvia an emergency budget and resources from European agencies such as Frontex, Europol and the Asylum Agency. Lithuania, for example, has 70 agency staff and 35 million euros in emergency support, explained spokeswoman Dana Spinant. But Poland has not wanted to activate any of these mechanisms, which would mean having observers who have to answer directly to Brussels about the actions of the authorities at the borders. The ultra-conservative Polish government has created a militarised zone with up to 11,000 soldiers, erected a barbed wire fence, approved the construction of a wall and enforced a state of emergency. It is reported that tear gas has been fired at people trying to cross into European territory and that the media are being prevented from accessing the borders if they can prove illegal actions.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

In fact, the Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said on Tuesday that Poland should be "more transparent" about the protection of its borders and accept the presence of Frontex agents as Lithuania does. "It would be good if there were more agents in Poland, we need transparency and to know what is being done", Johansson said in a situation reminiscent of what happened at the border between Turkey and Greece last year, when Erdogan opened it to thousands of Syrian refugees to get more European funds and Brussels seconded the hard hand of Greece against people trying to pass into European territory.

The EU is handling this crisis with almost warlike language. On Tuesday, the EU-27 agreed to partially suspend the visa facilitation agreement between the EU and Belarus, a measure aimed mainly at the regime's officials, and the accompanying communiqué again refers to the EU's commitment to counter Belarus's "hybrid attack". In the midst of Poland's defiance of the rule of law and European fundamentals, Brussels is forced to stick together with Morawiecki's government. Council President Charles Michel will travel to Warsaw on Wednesday to show his support.

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