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ponedeljek, 27 septembra, 2021

Belarus, the Cold War and the migration weapon against Europe

By Álvaro Peñas
A year ago, I wrote an article about Belarus and the mass protests against the re-election of its President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994. The protests were suppressed with great severity, and in the course of a few days thousands and thousands were arrested, as the reporter Witold Dobrowolski told me, who was arrested and tortured together with another Polish journalist until his country was able to free him. The truth, however, is that despite the daily demonstrations and outside pressure, the regime resisted through condemnations and sanctions. There were no cracks in the government or military, and Lukashenko’s main supporter, Russia, offered him full support.

Since then, other situations similar to the Cold War have arisen. In May, for example, opposition journalist Roman Protassevich and his girlfriend were arrested by KGB agents after the plane he used to travel from Athens to the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, where he went into exile in 2019, made an emergency landing in Minsk. A few days later, Protassevich confessed his crimes on Belarusian state television and asked President Lukashenko for a pardon. On August 3, opposition leader Vitaliy Shyshov left his home in Kiev to go jogging and was found hanged in a park hours later. Shyshov had left his country last year and settled in the Ukrainian capital, where he became politically active with other exiles. On the same day, Belarusian athlete Kristina Timanovskaya, who took part in the Olympic Games in Tokyo and decided not to return to her country, received a humanitarian visa and the protection of the Polish embassy, a decision made personally by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. So far this year, Poland has issued 8,844 humanitarian visas to Belarusian citizens. Reading this news, one doubts the demise of the Soviet Union.

Candles in memory of Belarusian opposition leader Vitaliy Shyshov

Latvia, Lithuania and Poland were the fiercest opponents of the Belarusian government within the European Union and the first to call for sanctions. And now that Lukashenko has overcome this crisis – another one – it is time to fight back, and for that there is nothing better than the weapon of migration. At the end of June, Lithuanian Interior Minister Agnė Bilotaitė claimed that her country had evidence that Belarusian border guards had been involved in and benefited from an illegal migration operation from Belarus to Lithuania. “This is an organized and well-planned operation. This entails enormous sums of money.” Bilotaitė pointed out that migrants pay up to 15,000 euros to cross the border between Belarus and Lithuania. The migrants arrive in Minsk on direct flights from Istanbul and Baghdad. They are then taken to the border in cars and try to cross the border there until they are stopped by Lithuanian border guards and ask for asylum. Those of us who know the Belarusian border know that it is a real border that has nothing to do with the “borders” of the Schengen area, and that this can only be done with the participation of the Lukashenko government.

At that time, on June 30, 636 migrants had been detained trying to cross the border, a number more than seven times higher than in 2020 and twelve times higher than in 2019. In the first week of July alone, however, 779 people were apprehended, most of them from Iraq, but also from Afghanistan, Iran and Syria. A month later, we are talking about 4,000 migrants. The Lithuanian government initially responded by processing asylum applications, which were of course rejected, but given the continued arrival of migrants and Belarus’ decision not to prevent their arrival in Lithuania in response to EU sanctions, the authorities have begun to reject migrants at the border. In a “hybrid war,” Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė announced the construction of a “physical barrier between Lithuania and Belarus, which will be a signal and a deterrent for the organizers of illegal migration flows.” The fence, the construction of which was approved by the Lithuanian parliament on Wednesday, will be 550 kilometers long and cost around 150 million euros. The Ukrainian government has decided to support the construction of the fence by supplying 38 tons of barbed wire as “humanitarian aid”.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited the Lithuanian capital and pledged EU support. This support came in the form of €36.7 million “to increase the capacity to receive large numbers of migrants”,i.e. money for medical care, vaccinations, clothing and food in the centres for foreigners where iraqi migrants were already insurgent last week. On the other hand, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, has sent some experts and state-of-the-art equipment. It should be remembered that Frontex left Hungary in January after a non-governmental organization, the Helsinki Committee – George Soros’ Open Society, of course – denounced Viktor Orbán’s government for sending illegal migrants back to Serbia. So we’ll see how long this support lasts. In response to the Lithuanian government’s request for financial support for the construction of the border fence, the European Commission has replied that it “does not finance fences, but supports integrated border control solutions”.

Lithuanian soldiers erect barbed wire on the border with Belarus

According to political scientist Vytautas Sinica, this “hybrid war” is Lukashenko’s revenge on Lithuania for its support of the democratic opposition and a means of “forcing Lithuania to change its foreign policy.” Sinica criticizes the initial actions of his government, which allowed asylum applications from migrants, even though “they came from a safe country (Belarus) and there was no legal basis for asylum in Lithuania. All this has led to 4,000 illegal migrants in Lithuania because the government has decided not to initiate the return policy sooner. We know from Western European experience that most illegal immigrants evade deportation, and Lithuania is no exception.

However, Lithuania is not the only EU border affected by this crisis. Poland, which has already detained 900 illegal migrants at the border with Belarus this year, 350 last weekend alone, eight times more than in 2020, has decided to send troops to reinforce the border. In Latvia, the parliament (Saeima) declared a state of emergency at the border on Wednesday after a tough debate in which the “liberal” parties cared more about the human rights of migrants than about border security. Speaking to those who refused to close the border, MP Edvins Snore pointed out that “you can’t be as naïve as you were in Germany in 2015. It is necessary to give a clear signal that this will not happen in Latvia. The nationalist politician also recalled that Latvia is one of the few EU countries where illegal border crossing is a criminal offence.

The use of the migration weapon is not new, we know it firsthand in Spain, where the “friendly” government of Morocco provokes human waves against Ceuta and Melilla every time our government makes a decision that bothers it or in order to gain economic advantage. The same has happened with Turkey, which has stopped the waves of migration only in exchange for millions of euros from the EU. Belarus is merely following these examples. Lukashenko is aware that illegal migration is a torpedo for the EU, and he is using it to achieve his political goals. As long as EU policy moves between the progressive demagogy of “open borders” and the harassment of countries that have decided to defend their borders, as in the case of the Visegrád Group, i.e. as long as it has succumbed to the globalist ideology of the open society, Europe will be constantly subject to blackmail.

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