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7th Oct 2022

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Belarus 'trained Afghan and Iraqi veterans' for EU border attacks

  • Polish-Belarusian border before the crisis broke out (Photo: Grani-msk)
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Belarus has trained Afghan and Iraqi war veterans to carry out armed attacks on the Polish border, a former regime insider has warned.

"The migration crisis is being used by [Belarus president Alexander] Lukashenko to insert into EU territory people who have [military] experience and who additionally undertook training on Belarusian territory to realise terrorist acts," Pavel Latushka, Belarus' former ambassador to France and Poland and former culture minister, told EUobserver.

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  • Pavel Latushka (r) speaking at an Estonian foreign ministry event (Photo: vm.ee)

He spoke amid escalating clashes between migrants and Polish border guards, which caused international alarm on Monday (8 November).

"Next, Lukashenko will go for a local military conflict on the EU border, and in the meantime he will sell the picture to the world about a humanitarian crisis, the Europeans being to blame," Latushka, who fled to Warsaw after joining the pro-democracy movement in Belarus, said.

"This is a form of Nazi-era propaganda," he said.

The Afghan and Iraqi veterans were handpicked and flown to Belarus between July and September, he noted.

They were trained at a base near the village of Opsa, in north-west Belarus, belonging to 'Osam', the Special Active Measures Department of Belarus' State Border Committee, he added.

The training was carried out with the help of Belarus special forces from the 'Marjina Horka' brigade, which had fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and with advisers from Russia's 'GRU' military intelligence, Latushka added.

"Iraqi citizens were trained there [the Osam base], now they are training Afghans from the territory of Tajikistan, who have combat experience. Of course, it's not dozens of people being trained, it's units of individuals," he said.

"They're preparing clashes on the Belarus-EU border with the use of weapons," he added.

Latushka said his revelations came from "sources high-up in Belarusian intelligence services".

"I cannot give any names or documents regarding this, as people are at the highest risk - for passing on this information they would face the death penalty," he told EUobserver.

The Belarusian foreign ministry ignored questions.

But Polish authorities were aware of Latushka's allegations and have warned of potential armed clashes.

"We expect there could be an escalation of ... an armed nature any time soon on the Polish border," Polish government spokesman Piotr Mueller said on Monday.

Poland's EU ambassador also briefed his 26 EU peers on the situation in Brussels on Tuesday, in a two-hour long, behind-closed-doors meeting.

"The discussion covered operational details of a classified nature," an EU source with knowledge of the talks said.

Asked if diplomats discussed potential armed clashes, the source added: "So far, there were no incidents [of use of live ammunition]".

"But the situation is tense. Belarusian soldiers are trying to provoke Polish ones by approaching them, loading their weapons, and taking aim," the source added.

Other reports indicated guns were already being fired, however.

Polish soldiers said Belarusian ones fired in the air behind crowds on Monday.

Migrants' videos on Facebook on Tuesday showed Belarusian soldiers firing blank cartridges next to crowds in order to herd them away from a fence.

And Belarusian authorities accused Polish forces of firing warning shots the same day.

EU ambassadors will also hold a formal meeting on Wednesday to discuss top-up sanctions.

They plan to call Belarus' actions a form of "hybrid warfare", creating a legal basis to designate officials, such as Belarus foreign minister Vladimir Makei, responsible for organising migrant flights and visas, Reuters reported.

They aim to blacklist Belarus reinsurance firm BelarusRe and its subsidiaries.

And they will discuss blacklisting foreign airlines who fly in migrants, as well as banning EU firms from leasing jets to Belarusian carrier Belavia.

Russia's role

Meanwhile, Latushka's mention of Russia's GRU officers at the Belarus training camp came amid Polish accusations the Kremlin had masterminded the border crisis.

"Lukashenko is the contractor, but he has his principal, who is [Russian] president [Vladimir] Putin," Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki told the Polish parliament on Tuesday.

"What's Russia's game? Russia's aiming to destabilise the EU ... they want an instrument of influence and blackmail against Europe," Polish interior minister Mariusz Kamiński added.

But for his part, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said the EU should pay Lukashenko to take care of the migrants he had flown in from the Middle East if it wanted respite.

"Why, when refugees were coming from Turkey, did the EU provide financing so that they stayed in the Turkish republic? Why is it not possible to help the Belarusians in the same way?", Lavrov told press in Moscow, referring to an EU-Turkey deal on Syrian refugees worth billions.

EU Commission: laws allowing Belarus pushbacks need changes

Poland, Latvia and Lithuania have introduced national laws, under states of emergency, allowing authorities to turn back people into Belarus. The European Commission is set to ask for some of those rules to be amended.

Minsk using migrants to 'divert focus from domestic crackdown'

Belarus authorities in late July launched a crackdown against civil society, says exiled Belarus youth leader Vorykhava. She said the regime in Minsk is now using the migrant border crisis to divert international attention away from repression inside the country.

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