29th Nov 2022

Nato alarmed after Belarus soldiers cross Polish border

  • 'We are concerned by the escalation', Nato said (Photo: Nato)
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Nato has voiced alarm over "escalation" of the Belarus migration crisis after Poland accused Belarusian soldiers of crossing into its territory.

"We are concerned by the escalation on the Polish-Belarusian border. We urge Belarus to adhere to international law," the Western military alliance said on Wednesday (3 November).

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It said it was "closely monitoring" the broader situation, which involved Belarus shuffling thousands of migrants across Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland's borders in recent months in revenge for EU sanctions.

"The [Nato] secretary general is in close contact with the governments of the allied countries on this matter. Nato is ready to continue helping our allies and maintaining security in the region," it added.

It spoke out after Poland said three uniformed men armed with military-grade rifles briefly crossed into its territory on the night of 1 November, before scuttling back into Belarus when Polish soldiers tried to ask them who they were.

"Belarus is not among those countries where you can buy long guns in any store ... the fact they were uniformed and had long guns rather suggests they were functionaries of the Belarusian state," Polish deputy foreign minister Piotr Wawrzyk also said on Wednesday, according to the PAP news agency.

"The Belarusian regime is testing the security of our border" and its actions were aimed at "deliberate escalation" of the crisis, he added.

"We are determined to protect the Polish and European Union border using all means and instruments at our disposal. We will repel every attack on the Polish border in cooperation with our European Union and Nato partners," Wawrzyk added.

Poland has sent some 10,000 troops to police its Belarusian frontier.

Nato has also deployed a multinational, Russia-deterrent force of several thousand soldiers in Poland in recent years.

Meanwhile, Warsaw summoned the Belarusian chargé d'affaires in Poland to explain what happened.

But for his part, the Belarusian State Border Guard Committee's spokesperson Anton Bychkovsky denied any wrongdoing.

"The main purpose of these [Polish] actions lies in the field of the escalation of tension and further attempts to create a negative image of Belarus," he said, according to Belarus' Belta news agency.

Belarus also showed no sign of slowing down its anti-EU migrant operation.

Based on its own airport schedule, three flights from Egypt, five from Turkey, two from Dubai, and one each from Syria and Iraq were due to land in Minsk on Thursday, amid Polish concern that some of the asylum seekers had military backgrounds and might hold radical views.

And Belarus showed no sign of easing its crackdown on the pro-democracy movement at home either, by opting to list a Polish satellite TV station called Belsat as well as all its viewers as "extremists", which carries a seven-year jail penalty.

"For the first time in history, the regime labelled a whole TV channel ... an extremist group," Franak Viacorka, a senior adviser to exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, said.

"The label extends to both viewers and journalists - 940,000 people in total," he noted.

"It's like punishing people for gathering around a bookshelf in a library," Belsat's deputy director, Alyaksei Dzikavitski, also said.

"Naturally, it is impossible to recognise the millions of Belarusians who watch us or read on social networks as extremists. This is the same as recognising the entire population as extremists. Because the overwhelming majority of Belarusians trust independent mass media, including Belsat," he said.

Poland doubles troop numbers on Belarus border

Poland doubled the number of troops to 6,000 on its Belarus border, amid an ongoing standoff with stranded migrants - at least seven of whom have died as temperatures start to plummet.

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