N. Peter Kramer’s Weekly Column
Since the summer, the EU has been confronted with a new type of challenge, a form of hybrid warfare in which migrants are used as weapons. According to EU figures, 7.935 migrants from Belarus have entered the EU: 4.216 in Lithuania, 414 in Latvia and 3.305 in Poland. The migrants try to travel on from there.
Belarus lures migrants from Africa and the Middle East and puts them on the doorstep of the EU. Belarus’ President Lukashenko wants to hit back the EU for sanctions imposed by ‘Brussels’ because of hijacking a plane in order to arrest a Belarusian opposition leader. However, relations were already bad before the hijacking because the EU did not recognise the results of the presidential elections.
The EU has tried through diplomatic channels to induce the migrants countries of origin or transport to oppose Lukashenko. Turkey was asked to reduce the number of flights from Istanbul to Minsk. Talks have also been held with Iraq. The Commission is also investigating flights from Morocco, Syria, Libya, Azerbaijan and Qatar. Altogether not a list of EU’s best friends.
Poland has declared a state of emergency and has gathered 12.000 soldiers at the border. There were shadowy armed skirmishes and migrants had died at the Polish border, ten are said to have been killed. The EU has offered help but refused to let the EU’s border agency Frontex access the restricted area where migrants have died. It seems that Poland seriously wants to continue pushing back migrants into Belarus without being disturbed by Frontex, which is under scrutiny by the European Parliament over that practice.
Now, the EU is set to widen the scope of sanctions against Belarus, which would allow to also ban aircraft leasing to Belarusian airline Belavia. Calls are growing for the EU to also sanction Turkish Airlines and Russia’s Aeroflot, which are flying from the Middle East to Minsk. When asked whether sanctions are working, a spokesperson for the Commission said: ‘Yes, we see that they work.’ But no details followed…