Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

tel. +38 (044) 287 52 58

Will the EU cope with the migration crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border?


Alexander Lukashenko keeps destroying Belarus. Once in international isolation, the self-proclaimed president finally gives up the sovereignty of his country to Vladimir Putin. Since the elections in Belarus, the Russian Federation has significantly increased its economic, political and military influence on the union state. In these conditions, Alexander Lukashenko is trying to raise the stakes in relations with the European Union, legitimize his rule and possibly renew ties with the EU countries. To this end, he has created an artificial crisis on the border with Poland and Lithuania, using migrants from the Middle East as a weapon.

However, as it turned out, what Vladimir Putin can do – cannot be done by his junior partners. The hybrid aggression of the Belarusian dictator received a serious response from the United States, the European Union and Ukraine. In early December, the fifth sanctions package was introduced against Belarus. The EU penalized 17 individuals and 11 legal entities, in particular, representatives of the command of the border troops of Belarus, employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the judiciary, the state air carrier Belavia, enterprises of the tourism sector and hotels, as well as OJSC Grodno Azot and the production association Belorusneft. As a result of the previous four packages, 166 individuals were on the sanctions list, including Lukashenko himself, as well as 15 institutions and enterprises.[1] The fifth package has dealt a significant blow to the Belarusian economy. This happened after the first shifts, when the Belarusian authorities moved most of the migrants from the border with Poland to a logistic center. However, even then, the coordination of the storming of the Polish and Lithuanian border by the Belarusian special services continued.

In addition to sanctions against the Lukashenko regime, the European Union has worked to put pressure on the governments of the countries from which the refugees come and on the airlines that provide transportation services for them. Restrictions on the transportation of potential refugees, at the request of the EU, were imposed by the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Iraq. Syrian airline Cham Wings Airlines has also canceled its flights to Minsk due to threats of sanctions. Iraq, in turn, has begun evacuating its citizens from Belarus. Poland has supported such initiatives and offered to pay for the return of migrants. Many migrants, however, even for free, do not want to return. Some of them sold property to pay for travel to Belarus and then, as they expected, to Germany. Migrants still have hopes they will eventually be able to get to Germany. In addition, as already mentioned, the Lukashenko regime still helps migrants to snuck into neighboring countries. On December 15, the Polish Border Guard Service stated that around midnight, a «group of 40 aggressive people» tried to break through the border on a section guarded by a border post in Cherems. They threw stones at border guards and the military. Since August, more than 40,000 attempts to cross the border illegally have been registered in Poland, so the government plans to build a barrier almost 200 km long and more than 5 meters high by the middle of 2022 on the border with the Republic of Belarus.[2]

Considering the imposed sanctions and measures to strengthen the border, the crisis artificially created by the regime plays against Lukashenka himself. Attempts to turn observers against the defenders of the Polish border have failed, since the majority of the country's population supported the actions of the government and the military, as well as other EU countries expressed support for Poland, and some of them provided certain assistance. According to the head of EU diplomacy, Josep Borrell, the migration crisis on the border of Belarus and Poland was successfully resolved, and now migrants are a problem of Lukashenko himself. Given the constant reports of the Polish border service about illegal border crossing attempts and attacks on border guards, it is better to refer to the stabilization of the situation, rather than the final settlement of the crisis, which is still under way and probably will not come to an end in the near future.

Despite the sanctions imposed on Lukashenko, on December 14, opposition leader Sergei Tikhanovsky was sentenced to 18 years in prison. The rest of the political prisoners faced sentences ranging from 14 to 16 years in prison. The number of political prisoners in Belarus is currently about 900. In a statement following the European Council meeting, which took place after the verdict of Sergei Tikhanovsky, the leaders of the EU member states once again called on Alexander Lukashenko for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners and an end to repression against civil society and independent media. The democratic right of the Belarusian people to elect their president through new, free and fair elections was emphasized. The call for new democratic elections, in particular, is a response to the statements of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Lukashenko regime Vladimir Makei, who suggested that if the sanctions are extended, Belarus can lose its statehood while the EU in such case can lose Belarus, and this is not in the interests of the European Union. For now, the EU's three billion euro aid plan for democratic Belarus remains unchanged. Therefore, if Alexander Lukashenko is really worried about the independence of his country, he still has an alternative to abandon the usurpation of power, however as of today, the leaders of the EU countries have agreed to accelerate the implementation of measures within the framework of the fifth sanctions package and further coordinate their actions to combat hybrid threats on the Belarusian border.

At present, there are no preconditions that would indicate Alexander Lukashenko's intention to change his policy. According to Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Mykola Snopkov, the state has again requested the Russian Federation to provide a loan, now in the amount of $ 3.5 billion. The Belarusian dictator has gone too far and responsibility for the state, which Lukashenko considers his property, will not outweigh the fear of personal consequences for the regime's actions since the last election. The total dependence of the Lukashenko regime on Vladimir Putin is gradually deepening as a result of the imposed sanctions. This creates the conditions for the final takeover of the state by the Russian Federation. As the events in Belarus have shown, not all dictators can persecute the opposition, falsify elections, mutilate peaceful demonstrators, and seize/shoot down civilian planes. Vladimir Makei is partly right, the Russian Anschluss of Belarus is neither in the interests of the EU nor of Ukraine, whose border with the aggressor state is increasing by 1,084 km while Russian air defense systems may soon appear near Ukraine's northern border.