UK accuses Belarus of ‘engineering’ migrant crisis on EU borders

Britain has accused Belarus’s authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko of an “abhorrent” attempt to engineer a migrant crisis in an effort to undermine European unity.

Boris Johnson criticised the “contrived crisis” and said the UK stands “shoulder-to-shoulder” with its European allies as EU foreign ministers considered fresh sanctions against the regime in Minsk.

Thousands of migrants, mainly from the Middle East, are trapped on the Belarus border with Poland, where the authorities are refusing to allow them to enter the EU.

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Migrants gather at the Belarus-Poland border, Belarus (Leonid Shcheglov/BelTA/AP)

Brussels has accused Mr Lukashenko – a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin – of deliberately encouraging the migrants to breach its borders in retaliation for sanctions the EU has imposed in response to his repressive rule.

The Ministry of Defence announced on Friday that it was sending a small contingent of UK armed forces personnel to Poland to provide engineering support at the border.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “With reference to Poland, what we are seeing are the latest in a series of abhorrent attempts by the Lukashenko regime to engineer a migrant crisis to undermine Poland and others in the region.

“We stand in solidarity with our European partners and our commitment is to ensuring the Lukashenko regime is held accountable for its actions.”

EU foreign ministers are now expected to expand sanctions against Belarus to include airlines, travel agents and individuals alleged to be helping to entice migrants to Europe in what is being described as a “hybrid attack” on the bloc.

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Migrants mass at a checkpoint (Leonid Shcheglov/BelTA/AP)

It follows a call by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to Mr Putin to intervene to halt what she called the “shameful manufactured migrant crisis” unfolding in the region.

The Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, expressed concern that the situation could quickly escalate into something more serious.

“I think this is a classic case of the sort of hybrid playbook where you link disinformation to destabilisation and the idea of pushing migrants on to the European Union’s borders is a classic example of that sort of thing,” he told the BBC.

Meanwhile, Downing Street has also voiced concern about the build-up of Russian forces on Russia’s border with Ukraine.

The Kremlin has dismissed claims that it is preparing to invade, after the Ukrainian defence ministry reported that around 90,000 Russian troops were massing in the area.

However, Mr Johnson’s spokesman said: “We are seeing a concerning situation at the border. We remain in unwavering support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and will continue to support them in face of Russian hostility.”

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Migrants face police at the border (Leonid Shcheglov/BelTA/AP)

Later, the Prime Minister urged allies to “work ever more closely with those who do share our values and instincts”, as he issued a warning over European reliance on Russian gas through the Nord Stream 2 supply line.

“So when we say that we support the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine, that is not because we want to be adversarial to Russia, or that we want in some way strategically to encircle or undermine that great country,” he was expected to say during a speech to business leaders, diplomats and dignitaries at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in London.

“And when our Polish friends asked for our help to deal with a contrived crisis on their border with Belarus, we were quick to respond.

“And we hope that our friends may recognise that a choice is shortly coming between mainlining ever more Russian hydrocarbons in giant new pipelines and sticking up for Ukraine and championing the cause of peace and stability, let me put it that way.”

Britain also joined the US in criticising Russia for creating space debris endangering satellites and future flights after Moscow launched an anti-satellite missile test.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “The debris resulting from this test will remain in orbit, putting satellites and human spaceflight at risk for years to come.”