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Merkel asks Putin to intervene with Belarus over escalating migrant standoff

A Polish police car and a military truck near the border with Belarus
A Polish police car and a military truck are parked at a makeshift checkpoint near Poland’s border with Belarus.
(Czarek Sokolowski / Associated Press)
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel asked Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday to intervene with Belarus over the escalating standoff involving migrants at the Polish-Belarusian border.

Merkel’s office said the outgoing German leader spoke with Putin by phone and underlined that the exploitation “of migrants against the European Union by the Belarusian regime is inhuman and completely unacceptable.” Merkel “asked the Russian president to exert his influence on the regime in Minsk.”

EU leaders accuse Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of opening up a new migration route on the bloc’s eastern edge to create instability in retaliation for EU sanctions on his authoritarian regime. The EU imposed the sanctions over a brutal crackdown on domestic dissent following Lukashenko’s disputed election to a sixth term in August 2020.

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The readout of Merkel and Putin’s call released by the Kremlin said the Russian leader “proposed to establish a discussion of the problems that have arisen in direct contacts of representatives of the EU member states with Minsk.” It also said that Putin and Merkel — who is due to step down as chancellor once a new German governing coalition is formed — “agreed to continue the conversation on the issue.”

Moscow is a close ally of Minsk, and Germany is a favored destination for migrants to the European Union.

Meanwhile, the European Union said for the first time that it was discussing the possibility of funding a wall on the EU’s external borders. The EU’s executive commission has never allowed money to be used to finance walls, fences or barriers but is facing pressure by several member countries to do so now.

People hoping to reach Europe from war-torn lands are finding themselves pawns in an escalating dispute between Belarus and the European Union.

Oct. 1, 2021

European Council President Charles Michel, who oversees the EU’s political agenda and meetings of European leaders, said during a visit to Warsaw on Wednesday that the commission would discuss the possibility of financing “physical infrastructure at the borders” in coming days.

During a visit aimed at showing support for Poland, Michel said that Poland was facing a “serious crisis” and a “brutal attack” and deserved solidarity from the rest of the 27-nation EU.

The Polish Defense Ministry and local police reported that multiple groups of migrants tried to push into Poland from Belarus late Tuesday and early Wednesday but that all the people who made it across the border were detained. Hundreds of migrants have been camping since Monday on the Belarusian side of the border, near the village of Kuznica.

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Poland’s Defense Ministry also accused Belarusian forces of firing shots into the air in a border area where migrants have set up a makeshift camp. The ministry posted a video on Twitter with noises of what sounded like shots.

A court in Belarus sentences two opposition activists to lengthy prison terms, the latest move in the government’s relentless crackdown on dissent.

Sept. 6, 2021

For months there has been heavy migration by people from the Middle East seeking to enter Poland, Lithuania and, to a lesser degree, Latvia, all of which are on the EU’s eastern border.

Thousands of migrants along the Belarus-Poland border, including families with children, have been tugged back and forth in a forested area of swamps and bogs. Already eight deaths have been confirmed, with the situation growing more perilous as temperatures drop to below freezing at night.

Poland’s government has faced criticism from the United Nations refugee agency and many Poles for pushing migrants back across the border into the forest. But the government in Warsaw has received support from the U.S. and from European leaders as large numbers of migrants have used wire cutters and what appeared to be tree trunks or poles to try to force their way into Polish territory.

Belarus’ State Border Guard Committee said in a post on the Telegram messaging app Wednesday that four men of Kurdish descent in the makeshift migrant camp at the border were injured. The committee accused Polish security forces of inflicting the injuries.

“According to the refugees, they were detained on the territory of Poland, where they tried to ask for protection and refugee status. Judging by the numerous injuries ... the Polish security forces mistreated the men and forcibly pushed them out through a barbed fence on the border with Belarus,” said the post, which was accompanied by pictures of bloodied individuals.

It is impossible to independently verify the information. Independent journalists face limits on reporting in Belarus, while a state of emergency in Poland also prevents journalists from entering a zone along the border.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who met with Michel on Wednesday, has described the current situation as the first time in 30 years that “the integrity of our borders is being tested.” Poland threw off Soviet rule three decades ago.

Morawiecki also suggested Tuesday that Russia was behind the migration pressure from Belarus. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected the suggestion.

Belarus’ president defends his diversion of a flight carrying a dissident activist who was later arrested, a move that has sparked outrage.

May 26, 2021

“We consider statements by the Polish prime minister that Russia is responsible for this situation absolutely irresponsible and unacceptable,” Peskov said.

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In one of the cases of attempted forced entry, a group of migrants with tools and equipment breached a razor wire fence late Tuesday near the village of Bialowieza in northeast Poland, according to a local border guard. All were detained and returned to the border with Belarus.

Humanitarian workers and local volunteers in the area have been helping migrants who make it across the border, offering them food, water and clothing.

Polish police stopped a group of activists who were on their way to the border Tuesday night as they approached the Kuznica border crossing, German news agency DPA reported.

The activists had planned to pick up migrants in Poland and help them reach Germany. However, the German Interior Ministry warned that “unauthorized transport and possible unauthorized entry” could have criminal consequences, DPA reported.

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