Belarus has turned to the Kremlin in its tense stand-off with the EU over the escalating crisis that has left around 2,000 migrants gathered at the country’s border with Poland.
The EU has vowed to impose more sanctions on Belarus and said President Alexander Lukashenko‘s government was using the migrants as political pawns and putting lives at risk – accusing his regime of “gangster-style” behaviour.
It later emerged that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Mr Lukashenko had discussed the situation during a telephone call on Tuesday – with the Belarusian state news agency Belta reporting that they expressed concern about the Polish troop presence on the border.
“A special place in the conversation was taken by the discussion of the situation on the Belarusian-Polish border, as well as the tough actions of the Polish side in relation to civilians,” Belta said.
“At the same time, it was emphasised, the fact of regular Polish troops gathering on the border was of particular concern. The heads of state discussed in detail the disturbing facts and trends taking place on the Belarusian-Polish borders.”
Following the telephone call, Mr Putin convened an operational meeting of Russia’s security council, to discuss what the Kremlin called “state border policy”.
Belta also said Belarus’s foreign minister Vladimir Makei was travelling to Moscow to discuss the crisis with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on Wednesday.
Mr Lavrov suggested the EU give Belarus financial assistance to stop the migrant flows, referencing an earlier deal with Turkey.
It came as the European Commission said Belarus was illegally offering migrants easy entrance into the EU via its territory.
“This is part of the inhuman and really gangster-style approach of the Lukashenko regime that he is lying to people, he is misusing people, misleading them, and bringing them to Belarus under the false promise of having easy entry into the EU,” a commission spokesperson said.
A spokesman for Poland’s special services, Stanislaw Zaryn, said Belarusian security personnel were “firing empty shots into the air, simulating dangerous events” – and providing tools to the migrants to help them destroy the border fence.
Polish police posted a video on Tuesday, which showed the migrants were met with riot police and coils of razor wire, but officers said the situation overnight was calm.
That followed a day of heavy tensions on the border.
In a series of videos posted on Twitter, tents and campfires can be seen as the police play an announcement warning the migrants that crossing into Poland is only allowed at official crossings.
But the nearest border crossing in Kuznica, in the northeast of Poland, is closed.
The situation marks an escalation in months of migration pressure against Lithuania, Poland and, to a lesser extent, Latvia – the three European Union countries that share a border with Belarus.
The migrants are mostly from Iraq and Syria, though some have come from Africa.
On Monday, Poland accused Belarus of trying to cause a violent provocation following reports that hundreds of migrants were attempting to cross the border.
Polish officials said they were prepared to defend the frontier and have increased security measures, deploying more than 12,000 soldiers – up from the 10,000 that were there recently.
Most of the migrants seek to pass through Poland to reach Germany and other western European countries.
Germany’s outgoing interior minister, Horst Seehofer, said on Tuesday that all EU countries “must stand together, because Lukashenko is using people’s fates with the support of Russian President Vladimir Putin to destabilise the West”.
He called for the European Commission to support Poland in securing the border.
“The Poles have reacted correctly so far,” Mr Seehofer said.
“We cannot criticise them for securing the EU’s external border with admissible means… the Poles are fulfilling a very important service for the whole of Europe.”
Mr Seehofer’s deputy, Stephan Mayer, told Bild that “Germany could send police very promptly to support Poland if Poland wants that”.
So far Poland’s ruling nationalists have refused help from Frontex, the EU’s border agency.