ROUNDUP / Belarus: Lukashenko threatens a sharp response to new sanctions
Belarus flag pixabay.com
MINSK / KUZNICA / BERLIN (dpa-AFX) – In the conflict with the EU over migrants in Belarus, ruler Alexander Lukashenko has threatened with a sharp response in the event of new sanctions. “What if we turn off the gas there?” He said on Thursday in Minsk in a meeting with high-ranking officials, including the military. The conflict over thousands of migrants in Belarus on the border with Poland who want to apply for asylum in the EU has been coming to a head for days. In view of the escalation, the European Union is discussing applying new sanctions to Belarus.
“We are heating up Europe and they are threatening us to close the border,” Lukashenko responded to Poland’s considerations to completely close the border with Belarus if the leadership in Minsk does not cease its activities. Part of the important Russian-European pipeline Yamal-Europe runs through Belarus. However, only a small part of the gas is transported from Russia to Europe via the pipeline. The main volumes flow through Ukraine and the Nord Stream 1 Baltic Sea pipeline.
The government in Warsaw and the EU are accusing the authoritarian Belarusian ruler Lukashenko of targeting people from crisis regions in order to smuggle them into the EU. The assumption is that the politician, who is decried as the “last dictator in Europe”, wants to avenge himself for the sanctions that the EU has imposed because of the repression of civil society and the democratic opposition. Most of the migrants and refugees want to go to Germany.
Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Thursday at a meeting with the Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaya in Berlin, according to a spokeswoman, the people are being used in an unacceptable manner by the political leadership in Minsk to exert political pressure on the European Union.
Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) accused Lukashenko of playing unscrupulously with human lives in the Bundestag and again threatened sanctions – not only against Belarus, but also against transit countries and airlines involved: “Nobody should be allowed to participate in Lukashenko’s inhumane activities with impunity.”
According to diplomats, the new EU sanctions instrument, which could be used against airlines or tour operators, will be formally adopted next Monday at a meeting of EU foreign ministers. In the next step, specific penalties could then be imposed.
The situation on the EU’s eastern external border has deteriorated dramatically since the beginning of the week, when thousands of migrants made their way to the EU from the Belarusian side. According to the information provided by the Polish authorities, several large groups tried in vain to break through the fence system with which Poland intends to prevent them from crossing the border.
On Thursday night, a larger group of more than 100 migrants threw objects at soldiers and then tried to destroy the border fence, tweeted the Warsaw Ministry of Defense. “Soldiers fired warning shots into the air.” Much of the information from the border area cannot be conclusively verified because independent journalists have so far been denied access. According to the border guards in Belarus, more people seeking protection have now reached the EU border. A total of thousands live there in tents in the forest in dangerous cold.
Poland has stationed thousands of soldiers on the EU’s eastern external border to prevent the border fortifications from breaking through. Lukashenko accused the neighboring country of militarizing the conflict. Because of the tense situation, Russian strategic long-range bombers are flying to Belarus for border surveillance. “Yes, these bombers are capable of carrying nuclear weapons,” he said.
In view of the tense situation around the migrants, Russia stated that it wanted to help solve the problem after all, as Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said, according to the Interfax agency. Chancellor Angela Merkel had previously asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for help. He has a direct line to Lukashenko. Russia itself is now threatened with sanctions because of the situation in Belarus.
On Thursday, the situation on the EU’s eastern external border will also concern the UN Security Council. France, Estonia and Ireland requested the meeting of the most powerful UN body for the afternoon (local time) in New York, as the German press agency learned from security council circles. The council is supposed to meet behind closed doors. Lithuania wanted to work there to create a humanitarian corridor for migrants willing to return.
Meanwhile, the Polish government is preparing for increased operations on its border with Belarus, as the Deputy Interior Minister Bartosz Grodecki said. After securing a big march for Independence Day in Poland, more security forces were to be relocated from Warsaw to the border in the evening ./nat/DP/zb
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