War fears erupt in EU as Belarusian soldiers threaten to shoot Polish troops

Germany accuses Belarus of organising another migrant crisis

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The influx of migrants from Belarus to the EU, often through Poland, is putting tensions between the bordering countries on edge. Warsaw’s Defence Ministry has today accused Belarusian soldiers of threatening to shoot its troops.

Explaining that Polish soldiers had encountered around 250 migrants on the border with Belarus on Wednesday, the Ministry said: “The Belarusian soldiers who accompanied them [the migrants] threatened our soldiers to open fire.”

They added the situation did not get any further thanks to Polish soldiers not letting themselves be provoked by the “uniformed people armed with rifles”.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry confirmed yesterday it had summoned — for the third time in the past month — the Belarusian chargé d’affaires, Alexander Chesnovsky, over the “intrusion” at the border.

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In turn, Belarus summoned the Polish representative, saying its army “never provoked border incidents”.

Poland’s deputy foreign minister, Piotr Wawrzyk, described the Belarusian authorities’ recent actions as “increasingly evident hallmarks of a deliberate escalation”.

He added: “Poland deems such actions unacceptable and will not tolerate them.

“Poland is determined to defend its borders and the external borders of the European Union.”

Stanislaw Zaryn, the spokesman for Poland’s security services, told AP there has been a “series of incidents and provocations organized by Belarusians, but this was the most dangerous incident so far”.

At the core of the issue lays illegal migration.

For months, thousands of migrants and refugees, mostly from Yemen, Syria, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo, have attempted to enter the EU from Belarus via Poland and fellow members Latvia and Lithuania.

In August, Poland began building a barbed wire fence along its border with Belarus.

Following the model of the fence on the Greek border with Turkey, it is set to include motion sensors and cameras.

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Warsaw’s steps to curb illegal border crossings have drawn criticism that migrants are being treated inhumanely.

Last month, the Polish parliament passed a law allowing border guards to immediately expel migrants who cross the border illegally.

It also gave guards the power to reject applications for international asylum without review.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said Poland is in breach of international law in trying to force migrants back into Belarus instead of offering them asylum.

But EU leaders say the government of Alexander Lukashenko — who is backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin — is coordinating the illegal passage of migrants from war-torn and poverty-stricken countries into the bloc as retaliation against sanctions imposed following the August 2020 presidential elections.

The EU does not recognise the results of the Belarusian election, dubbing it “neither free nor fair”.

While explicitly condemning Belarus, the EU has also rejected calls from a number of member states to finance border walls, choosing instead to “keep up the pressure on the Lukashenko regime”.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said last month: “I was very clear that there is a longstanding view in the European Commission and in the European parliament that there will be no funding of barbed wire and walls.”

Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg.

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