Russia flies N-capable bombers over Belarus amid migrant crisis

Published November 11, 2021
Migrants in a camp along the Belarus-Poland border on Wednesday. —AFP
Migrants in a camp along the Belarus-Poland border on Wednesday. —AFP

MOSCOW: Russia took the rare step of dispatching two nuclear-capable strategic bombers to patrol Belarusian airspace on Wednesday in a show of support to close ally Belarus at a time when it is locked in a migrant standoff with the European Union.

Moscow’s decision to up the ante came as the 27-nation bloc considered sanctions on Wednesday to punish Minsk for what it calls an artificially created crisis, something Belarus denies.

Migrants trapped in Belarus made multiple attempts to force their way into Poland overnight, Warsaw said on Wednesday, announcing that it had reinforced the border with extra guards.

United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called on states to deescalate and resolve the “intolerable” crisis.

“These hundreds of men, women and children must not be forced to spend another night in freezing weather without adequate shelter, food, water and medical care,” she said.

Poland deploys 15,000 troops along border

The Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombers that Russia sent to overfly Belarus are capable of carrying nuclear missiles, including hypersonic ones of the kind designed to evade sophisticated Western air defences.

Russia blamed the EU for the crisis on the border, accusing it of failing to uphold its own humanitarian values and of trying to “strangle” Belarus with plans to close part of the frontier. It also said it was unacceptable for the EU to impose sanctions on Belarus over the crisis.

The Kremlin said a suggestion by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki that Moscow had a role in the flow of migrants into the EU was irresponsible and that President Vladimir Putin had told German Chancellor Angela Merkel the EU should discuss the crisis directly with Minsk.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he hoped responsible Europeans would “not allow themselves to be drawn into a spiral that is fairly dangerous” after talks with his Belarusian counterpart.

The bloc’s 27 ambassadors are set to agree on Wednesday that the growing numbers of migrants flying to Belarus to reach the EU border amount to “hybrid warfare” by President Alexander Lukashenko — a legal basis for new sanctions.

“Mr. Lukashenko ...unscrupulously exploits people seeking refuge as hostages for his cynical power play,” Germany’s acting Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Twitter.

He described images from the Belarusian border, where people are stuck in freezing conditions with little food and shelter, as “horrific” but said the EU could not be blackmailed.

The EU accuses Belarus of encouraging the migrants — from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa - to try to illegally cross the frontier in revenge for earlier sanctions imposed on Minsk over human rights abuses. Lukashenko has denied using the migrants as weapons.

Germany’s Merkel urged Putin to put pressure on Belarus over the situation at the border, a German government spokesperson said.

Thousands of people have converged on the border this week, where makeshift razor wire fences and Polish soldiers have repeatedly blocked their entry. Some of the migrants have used logs, spades and other implements to try to break through.

The Polish border guards service reported 599 illegal border crossing attempts on Tuesday, with 9 people detained and 48 sent back. Blaszczak said the force of Polish soldiers stationed at the border had been strengthened to 15,000 from 12,000.

Published in Dawn, November 11th, 2021

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