European countries and the United States have condemned Belarus at the United Nations over a crisis involving migrants trapped along Belarus’s western border with EU member Poland.
The United States, Britain, Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway, and Albania condemned “the orchestrated instrumentalization of human beings whose lives and well-being have been put in danger for political purposes by Belarus.”
They said in a joint statement issued on November 11 after a meeting of the UN Security Council in New York that this tactic was “unacceptable and calls for a strong international reaction.”
The statement also accused the regime of Belarusian authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka of becoming a threat to regional stability.
EU leaders have accused Minsk of luring the migrants from war-torn and impoverished countries in the Middle East and Africa and then purposely pushing them to its borders with Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia to retaliate for EU sanctions.
Roughly 2,000 migrants have been trying to cross the border for months but the crisis came to a head on November 8 when hundreds made a concerted effort to cross and were pushed back by Polish border guards.
They set up a camp, sheltering in tents and burning wood from the forest to keep warm. Teams from the UN refugee agency, the International Organization for Migration, and the Red Cross visited the camp on November 11 to check on conditions and deliver aid.
The joint statement made no mention of Belarus ally Russia, which before the Security Council meeting rejected western allegations that it was working in conjunction with Minsk to send the migrants over the EU’s eastern border.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had his second phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in as many days and “spoke in favor of restoring contacts between EU states and Belarus in order to resolve this problem,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
The EU has refused. The bloc severed ties and imposed sanctions after a heavy crackdown on the opposition that followed last year’s presidential election, which Lukashenka claimed to win, but no Western countries have recognized.
Moscow has put on a show of support for Belarus by dispatching nuclear-capable strategic bombers to fly over Belarus two days in a row.
The Belarusian Defense Ministry said that such Russian bomber flights will be conducted on a regular basis.
The Russian military said the bombers spent more than four hours in the air on a mission intended to buttress the countries’ alliance. It said the bomber patrol “wasn’t aimed against any third countries.”
But deputy Russian UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyansky told reporters at the UN that “it is a response to a massive build-up on the Polish-Belarusian border.”
Polyansky, citing the alliance between Russia and Belarus, and said that “if there is a buildup of military resources on the border with Belarus, we have to react.”
Lukashenka also said that Minsk “must respond” if the EU takes new measures, raising the possibility of cutting off transit through a pipeline that carries Russian natural gas through Belarus to Poland and further into Europe.
“We are heating Europe, and they are threatening us,” he said. “And what if we halt natural gas supplies?”
Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya said Lukashenka was bluffing about cutting off gas and urged the EU to stand firm.
“It would be more harmful for him, for Belarus, than for the European Union and I can suppose it’s bluffing,” Tsikhanouskaya told AFP.
“We are grateful for the principled position of European countries that they are not going to communicate with (an) illegitimate person,” she said.