While the rag has been burning for many months between Belarus and the European Union, the President of this Eastern European country, Alexander Lukashenko, is going to Russia this Wednesday, December 29. He is due to meet Vladimir Poutine, his Russian counterpart, in St. Petersburg.
Both are in the crosshairs of the EU, in particular because of the difficult migratory situation on the border between Belarus and Poland.
Several thousand people, mainly from countries in the Middle East, have indeed recently flocked to this area, arousing fear in Europe of a large-scale migration crisis.
The latest figures from the European Commission, drawn up at the end of November, reported nearly 8,000 migrants from Belarus arriving on EU territory in 2021. That is 4,285 in Lithuania, 3,255 in Poland and 426 in Latvia.
In power since 1994, Alexander Lukashenko is accused by Brussels of having attracted these migrants since the summer and of having himself participated in their transport to the borders of the European Union, issuing them visas and leading them to Poland. but also to Lithuania. Member states suspect the Belarusian president of having wanted revenge for the Western sanctions taken against his authoritarian regime, in particular after the repression of the historic protest movement that followed his re-election in 2020.
France is among those who denounce this situation. On October 27, before the Senate European Affairs Committee, Clément Beaune, French Secretary of State for European Affairs, deplored “trafficking in human beings. […] organized by the Lukashenko family itself, directly, with third countries, in any case with commercial flights and organized tours ”.
In this case, Vladimir Poutine is accused of having helped Minsk to orchestrate this migratory influx. Like his Belarusian counterpart, the Russian president denies, referring the responsibility to “Western countries” and their military interventions in the Middle East.
Several repatriation flights have been chartered to bring these migrants back to their countries of origin, but attempts to cross into Poland continue. These people, stuck on the eastern border of Europe in the cold and destitution, are mostly Iraqi Kurds. Poland denies them entry and accuses Belarus of preventing them from leaving the area. According to NGOs working there, at least 11 migrants have been found dead on both sides of the border since the crisis began this summer.
New EU sanctions
For its part, Minsk alternates between gestures of appeasement and warnings addressed to Europe. With this meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia continues to show its support for Belarus, but is careful not to get too involved. Vladimir Putin has thus dissociated himself from the threats formulated in November by Alexander Lukashenko, when he mentioned the possibility of interrupting Russian gas deliveries to Europe, via the gas pipeline passing through his country.
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, for her part considered that “Europe is not facing a migratory crisis, but an attempt at destabilization by a totalitarian regime not recognized by the EU”. Seventeen new officials and 11 Belarusian entities were added to the EU’s blacklist for the country. It already has 166 names, including those of the president and two of his sons. The sanctions consist of an asset freeze and a ban on entry into the EU.
Since “the Belarusian regime’s strategy is based on the complicity of tour operators and their intermediaries”, the national airline Belavia, whose “majority of the fleet consists of planes leased by EU companies”, has been added to this blacklist. The European Commission wants to globally sanction all “companies complicit in the trafficking and smuggling of migrants”. At the same time, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada have also taken new measures against Minsk.
This is the fifth package of sanctions adopted by Brussels against this Eastern European country since the contested re-election of Alexander Lukashenko in August 2020. More recently, his regime has once again drawn the ire of member states by condemning six of the Belarusian opposition figures face heavy sentences, up to eighteen years’ imprisonment.