16TH MECHANISED DIVISION HANDOUTEPA
“At the moment, Europe is counting its ‘friends’ and we are happy to have so many”. Margaritis Schinas speaks from Lebanon, the second leg of the European commissioner’s tour after the one in Abu Dhabi yesterday. Objective: to persuade Arab countries and their airlines not to collaborate with Lukashenko for the transport of migrants from the east to Belarus, from where Belarusian soldiers then escort them to the Polish border. Iraqi Airways assures that it will not resume flying to Minsk. Schinas will be in Ankara next week, Monday in Baghdad, but in the meantime the Belarusian airline Belavia and Turkish Airlines welcome the invitation not to sell one-way tickets to the Belarusian capital. But this is the only result obtained by the European Commission grappling with the most explosive migrant case of recent times, which threatens a military escalation between East and West, Europe and the US against Vladimir Putin’s Russia, with Great Britain he inserts by sending soldiers to help Poles build walls to push back migrants. Latvia also starts construction of the border wall: the go-ahead from Parliament.
If the ‘count of friends’ in the Arab world bears fruit, this does not mean that the situation on the border between Poland and Belarus is improving. According to the calculations of the EU Commission, about 2 thousand migrants are trapped in the cold and frost along the Polish border. “But we have no first-hand information” on what their nationalities are, says a spokesman for the Berlaymont Building. And this is one of the biggest problems: at the border, the sovereign government of Warsaw does not allow European observers to approach, the media are kept at a distance and so are the NGOs. All in the dark, while the tension mounts.
At the border, the military presence is now a reality. There are the Belarusians who escorted migrants from Minsk. There are 15,000 Polish soldiers. There are the British, to help the Poles. There are Russian special forces and paratroopers engaged in military exercises in Gozha, a Belarusian town halfway between the border with Poland and the one with Lithuania. While in the US and also in Brussels there are fears for the presence of Russian troops also on the Ukrainian border, although European diplomatic circles tend not to link the Belarusian case with the Ukrainian question. “We have no information on a possible link between the two situations,” they tell us in an attempt to ease tensions. NATO is on high alert. The Atlantic Alliance “remains vigilant against the risk of further escalations and provocations by Belarus on the borders with Poland, Latvia and Lithuania” and will continue “to monitor the implications” of the situation on the eastern borders of the EU “for the security of the Alliance ”, announces the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s governing body.
Meanwhile, Monday’s Council of Foreign and Defense Ministers is preparing in Brussels. The news of the London government sending a contingent to help the Poles build their coveted border wall is bitter. The choice sounds like a nice and good interference by a former member of the EU on a very delicate issue of the European debate in recent days. 12 states are asking Brussels to finance the construction of barriers on the eastern border. At the last summit in October, they were able to keep other leaders discussing the issue for hours. Ursula von der Leyen tries to resist, promising Poland another 25 million euros to face the crisis but not to build the walls. But the President of the European Council Charles Michel instead supports the request of the 12.
It will certainly be discussed at the summit on Monday, without decisions. “We are not at this point”, a North European diplomatic source is holding back. But it is clear that the issue does not go away for now, especially after the new British interference, annoying yet not condemnable by the European side because the United Kingdom is still an ally of NATO, Biden’s side in the old continent.
Putin’s game is not at all clear, as usual. On the one hand, he lets his soldiers continue their military exercises in the hot zone. On the other hand, the head of the Kremlin assures that Lukashenko has not confronted him on the crisis on the border with the EU. In any case, he denies it on the threat to cut gas to the Union. “Russia’s reliability as a supplier under current and future contracts is beyond question,” said Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, adding that Lukashenko did not agree on his statement with Moscow.
After Angela Merkel’s mediation with Russia, the French also try, on the sidelines of the conference on Libya in Paris. Lukashenko’s behavior is “irresponsible” and “unacceptable” with respect to the “exploitation” of migratory flows, is the message that comes from the quadrilateral meeting between the French foreign and defense ministers, Jean-Yves Le Drian and Florence Parly, with the counterparts from Russia, Sergej Lavrov and Sergej Cho’gou. Paris asks Moscow to “mobilize its close ties with Belarus to bring about an end” to this situation.