Poland has accused Lukashenko of attempting to orchestrate a crisis on the European Union’s eastern frontier by funneling migrants to the border in retaliation for sweeping sanctions imposed on Minsk by the bloc and other Western powers in June. Lukashenko’s government has repeatedly denied the claims, blaming the West for dangerous, sometimes fatal, border crossings and poor treatment of migrants.
International criticism of Belarus escalated on Tuesday, as the European Commission accused it of acting like “a gangster regime” and criticizing Lukashenko’s “false promises” that have tricked migrants into believing they will gain “easy entry into the EU.”
The diplomatic drama comes a day after ugly scenes on Monday, when groups of migrants attempted to breach the border, some of whom who were pushed toward the barriers by Belarusian services, according to the Polish border guard.
The head of the Polish Ministry of Defence Mariusz Błaszczak later cast the attempted fence crossing as an “attack,” which he predicted would “certainly be repeated.”
Polish authorities on Tuesday morning closed the Kuznica border crossing – where huge numbers of migrants were seen congregating the day before.
Some 4,500 migrants are currently at the border near Kuznica trying to cross into Poland from Belarus, Polish border guard press officer Ewelina Szczepańska told CNN.
The Belarusian State Border Committee – which is responsible for the country’s external borders – said in a statement that there are around 2,000 migrants at the scene.
Around 14,000 Polish soldiers, police and border guards are now stationed in the area, sparking fears of a major confrontation as migrants attempt to cross into Poland.
The situation on the ground appeared calm on Tuesday, according to Juergen Weichert, a journalist working for CNN German affiliate n-tv in Kuznica. Weichert reported that Polish police were trying to clear the area as much as possible, and that migrants on the Belarusian side of the fence were still trying to get through the barbed wire north and south of the closed Kuznica crossing.
Footage provided by the Belarus State Border Committee showed migrants wrapped in coats and hoodies huddled around small campfires, with aerial shots showing camps dotted along the Belarusian side of the border close to nearby forests. The video also showed the movement of what appeared to be military vehicles on the Polish side.