Polish eastern border: Border conflict with Belarus: Possible EU sanctions against Aeroflot cause unrest
Moscow A relatively quiet night on the Polish-Belarusian border is contrasted with increasing political tensions in the East-West relationship: after the two major violent border breaches on Wednesday with dozens of refugees, the Polish security forces did not register any further attempts. The situation remains tense, however, because an estimated 4,000 migrants – mainly Kurds from Iraq – are waiting in the border area.
The conditions in the makeshift tent camp are catastrophic. The refugees are running out of provisions and drinking water. People protect themselves against the cold by fetching firewood from the forests. There is hardly any way to wash or get medical attention.
The persistence of the refugees can be explained not only with the hope of still getting into the EU – most of them are destined for Germany – but also with the hopelessness of their situation. Most of them can’t go back after paying smugglers 12,000 to 15,000 euros to get here.
The dispute over who is responsible for the situation is growing sharper. The EU ambassadors agreed in Brussels on a new package of sanctions against Belarus, whose long-term president Alexander Lukashenko they consider to be the originator of the crisis because of his generous visas to the Iraqis.
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In addition to sanctions against people, the airline Belavia, which had its flight license over Europe withdrawn in May after the forced stopover of the Ryanair plane in Minsk, is to be sanctioned even more severely. Among other things, the deal that Belavia is still leasing around half of its aircraft in the EU country Ireland could be targeted.
The EU also wants to take action against other airlines that it suspects of being involved in tug flights to Minsk. In addition to Turkish Airlines, the majority state-owned Russian airline Aeroflot, which flies to four locations in the Near and Middle East (not counting Tel Aviv), received prominent mention.
Aeroflot’s shares came under pressure after the news broke. On Thursday, when the Moscow Stock Exchange opened, the shares fell by two percent. The company itself rejected the suspicions: “Our airline does not operate any regular flights from Iraq or Syria, or flights along the Istanbul – Minsk route,” said a company spokesman. The same applies to charter flights, he added.
Moscow threatens “mirror-like sanctions”
In addition, the company has not registered any increased number of transit passengers from the Middle East to Minsk since the beginning of October. A total of 19 passengers flew on to Minsk only from Beirut, according to the press release. The company rated the news of possible sanctions as damaging to its image and reserved the right to take legal action.
Moscow politicians also reacted immediately to the report. The deputy chief of the foreign committee in the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, Vladimir Jabarow, threatened with sharp retaliation measures, should Aeroflot get on the sanctions list. “If they issue sanctions against our airline, we will impose mirror-image sanctions against their airlines, which are very dependent on Russia because of its geographic location,” said Jabarov.
The politician warned that Russia could block its airspace for European airlines. Indeed, that would be a hard blow to European airlines. Flying around Russia is associated with considerable costs, especially in Europe-Asia traffic.
In the dispute over the refugee crisis, Moscow is rhetorically firmly on Minsk. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov blamed the EU for the refugees on the Belarusian-Polish border. With its policies, the West has contributed to destroying the livelihoods of the people in Syria and Iraq, Lavrov said.
More: Lukashenko’s work and Putin’s contribution: Migration must not become a weapon