Violence And Threats Over Migrant Crisis On Polish-Belarus Border Threatens Russia, NATO Involvement

Saber rattling echoes across Eastern Europe as Poland accuses Belarus of stoking a migrant crisis as each calls upon the EU and Russia respectively for support. The Polish border was reinforced this week with thousands of riot police and military personnel after several attempts were made to cross the border by groups of migrants, which Polish authorities estimate are somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 individuals. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has declared that the security of Poland’s eastern border has been “brutally violated” by Belarus and Russia flying in migrants and sending them to the Polish border to storm into their country, with the AP reporting migrants have been flown to Minsk on tourist visas then sent to the border, reportedly arriving in Belarus from Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and even Russia. Belarus, meanwhile, has denied that this migrant group was deliberately gathered, with Belarusian Defense Ministry describing the claims as “unfounded and unlawful Polish allegations,” and in turn denounced the buildup of Polish troops on their border. Belarusian dictator President Lukashenko, in an address to Belarusian state media, blamed Poland and the EU for the crisis, decrying EU sanctions and claiming that “this confrontation at the border because of migrants…are grounds for provocations. All provocations are possible.”

UN Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet called on both nations to stand down and abide by international human rights conventions. But the situation has only escalated, with Russia and NATO increasingly involving themselves in the conflict. Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenezia argued before the Security Council that Poland was creating the crisis, and Reuters reported on Thursday Russia dispatched two nuclear-capable strategic bombers over Belarusian skies. In turn, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen promised further sanctions on Belarus next week, and Reuters also cited an insider official claiming that NATO has affirmed its support for Poland in a closed door meeting.

The weaponization and politicization of the lives of migrants in European geopolitics is contemptable and unacceptable. Belarus’s deliberate gathering up of migrants far from their borders with the express purpose of fomenting a crisis should be soundly condemned. However, both sides of this conflict have consistently derided these migrants like a weapon waiting to bring chaos to wherever they are unleashed. But these thousands of migrants are innocents being used as tools in the political games of European regimes, simply seeking respite from the wars and instability that EU nations and Russia had a direct hand in causing. Despite violent descriptions from both Belarusian and Polish officials, most pictures taken of the migrant groups show families with children trying to find shelter from the cold, as winter sets in without access to food or water while facing violence from both sides of the border.

This conflict is the culmination of a number of brewing crises across Europe. Amid developing tensions between Poland and the EU over discrepancies in authority and increasing human rights disagreements over Poland’s treatment of LGBTQ+ people, Belarus’s weaponization of the migrant crisis is the direct result of existing enmity over the EU’s sanctions against Belarus. First levelled against President Lukashenko’s violent crackdown on widespread protests against his 2020 reelection, which the EU has condemned as well as the veracity Lukashenko’s election, Belarus also received severe criticism over its forced landing of a commercial plane to arrest a Belarusian dissident. The EU has described this most recent conflict as “revenge” for the EU’s past condemnations.

The regimes of Poland and Belarus have proven themselves to be unpredictable and flagrant with human rights, characteristics which threaten not only the safety of the migrants but also risk a sudden escalation of violence, with reports of increasing aggression from both nations. Razor sharp tensions and already massing troops cast a dark shadow over any chance at immediate peace, but key figures in the UN as well as leaders like out-going Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel have called on both sides to deescalate, while figures like UK Armed Forces Minister James Heappey have warned against involving NATO. Peace in Europe and the lives of thousands of migrants hang in the balance of two states primed for conflict, with little time for international actors to find a nonviolent solution.