Alexander Lukashenko vows he will 'not stop' migrants crossing
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Mr Lukashenko has told hopeful asylum seekers that his country would not stop them attempting to cross over into the EU. It came in what was his first public appearance at the border since the start of the crisis, which began this summer. Meeting migrants at a warehouse-turned-shelter, Mr Lukashenko told them that they were free to head west or go home as they chose.
His words followed an interview he did with the BBC in late November, in which he said that it was “absolutely possible” that his Belarusian forces helped migrants to cross into Poland.
Experts say Belarus’ actions are in reaction to economic sanctions imposed by the EU.
These were rolled out in June — a month before the influx of migrants — when the bloc introduced restrictive measures against Mr Lukashenko in response to the escalation of serious human rights violations and the violent repression of civil society, democratic opposition and journalists.
They were also dished out following the forced landing of a Ryanair flight in Minsk on May 23, and the detention of journalist Raman Pratasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega.
In mid-November, the EU stepped-up its sanctions as the migrant crisis bordered on a humanitarian scale, introducing a swathe of new measures.
However, Professor Matthew Longo, a political scientist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, suggested that sanctions are relatively ineffective, and that the EU is unlikely to do anything to prevent Belarus from continuing to weaponise its border.
He told Express.co.uk that the issue of a border is an issue of sovereignty, and explained: “In so far as that is a value, that it is an international principle that we want to uphold, the consequence of meddling with it is that bad people can do bad things to innocent people in their own borders.
“And the only recourse is either something distant and impotent like a reprimand, or something stronger like sanctions, which frankly are very easy to get around as we’ve seen.
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“The problem is that if country X wants to sanction country Y, there’s all these other countries through to Z that end up becoming third party intermediaries.
“Or, the other option is that you invade.
“But the truth is, whatever else can be said about the EU, it very obviously has no appetite for that, and the evidence for this is not Belarus, but Ukraine.”
The EU spent 20 years trying to pull Ukraine into its European project.
But the region has for hundreds of years been so closely associated with Russia that it today finds it difficult to shake its ties.
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While the modern-day Ukraine has its head turned towards the EU and Europe, Prof Longo noted how the EU’s reaction to Russian involvement in 2014 suggests that the EU is unlikely to do anything regarding Belarus.
He said: “The moment Russia invaded and took Crimea, the EU went quiet.
“If the EU isn’t going to react to that, there’s no way they’re going to react to a couple thousand of people from somewhere else crossing into the bloc — it’s just not going to do anything drastic like actually use force.
“So, at this point, Lukashenko is actually getting his will.”
Today, Mr Lukashenko threatened to cut Russian gas supplies to Europe should Poland choose to close its border with Belarus.
He made a similar threat last month, which prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to warn that a shutoff of Gazprom-owned natural gas pipelines running across Belarus would “would be a violation of our transit contract.”
According to the Belarusian state-owned Belta news agency, Mr Lukashenko is said to have quipped in an interview with Russian media: “As Poland together with others takes more action against Belarus, do they think I am going to stick to some contracts?
“Come on, they should know better.”
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and partners have since scaled-up aid missions along the Poland-Belarus border as weather conditions worsen and thousands of migrants are left living in freezing conditions in the woods.
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