Will Border Crisis in Belarus Lead to a Shooting War?

(Sergei Gapon/Pool Photo via AP)

Thousands of migrants from Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and other war-torn Middle Eastern countries have been camped on the border between Belarus and Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania, hoping to transit across the border and get to Germany, France, or some other EU nation.


It’s called a “hybrid attack” by Belarus against its neighbors, because President Alexander Lukashenko is using the migrants to get the EU to lift sanctions that were put in place following a crooked election. The sanctions were then substantially increased after the hijacking of a Ryanair passenger jet carrying a noted dissident. Belarussian jets intercepted the plane carrying journalist Raman Pratasevich and forced it to land in Minsk.

Lukashenko is ticked off and says he will no longer abide by an agreement that required Belarus to intercept migrants on their way to western Europe. Instead, those migrants are crowding the borders of Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania, with many sneaking across the border.

And those migrants didn’t just happen to show up at the border by chance.

Associated Press:

Pavel Latushka, a member of the Belarusian opposition, charged that state-controlled tourist agencies were involved in offering visa support to migrants and helping them drive to the border.

The EU accused Lukashenko of using the migrants as pawns in a “hybrid attack” against the 27-nation bloc in retaliation for the sanctions. Lukashenko denies encouraging the flow of migrants and said the EU is violating migrants’ rights by denying them safe passage.


Conditions along the border are about what you’d expect; grim and getting grimmer. Poland is blaming Russia for thousands of refugees on their border, and Lukashenko is threatening to cut off natural gas supplies to western Europe.

Poland has also decided to build up its military forces at the border while Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia said “Belarus posed serious threats to European security.”


“This increases the possibility of provocations and serious incidents that could also spill over into the military domain,” a joint statement by the countries’ defence ministers said.

The Belarus defence ministry earlier said that in response to a build-up of Polish military forces near the border it would be obliged it to take “appropriate response measures”, both independently and together with its strategic ally, Russia.

The EU says they may impose new sanctions on Belarus—something that would only further enrage Lukashenko. None of that will solve the problem of what to do with the thousands of people sitting in the freezing weather without food or water. According to the Polish government, eight of the refugees have already died.


It wouldn’t take much of a spark to start a shooting war on the border. There are plenty of hard feelings against Belarus left over from the cold war in the Baltic states. And Lukashenko’s heavy-handed tactics against the EU are not appreciated by Poland, who has their own problems with the Union.

Cooler heads will likely prevail and some solution will be found that papers over the differences.


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