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1st Jul 2022

EU diplomacy tries to avert Belarus-Poland clash

  • EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in Washington on Wednesday (Photo: ec.europa.eu)
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The EU has gone into high-gear diplomacy to stop the Belarus migration crisis from turning into a military one, amid reports a 14-year old boy has died.

"We will defend our democracies", EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said while meeting US president Joe Biden in Washington on Wednesday (10 November).

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New sanctions on Belarus officials and firms involved in trafficking migrants to the EU border were going forward next week, she added.

France called for snap talks at the UN Security Council in New York.

German chancellor Angela Merkel phoned Russian president Vladimir Putin to ask him to defuse the situation.

And EU Council president Charles Michel flew to Warsaw to show solidarity.

The EU moves came after Belarus pushed thousands of migrants to the Polish border on Monday, creating a humanitarian and security emergency.

A 14-year old Kurdish boy died of exposure in a forest in Belarus near the Kuźnica crossing-point on Wednesday, according to migrants who spoke by phone to Polish news website oko.press.

Polish authorities have warned the situation could escalate into "armed" clashes, amid a concentration of Belarusian and Polish soldiers standing nose-to-nose in the region.

And Belarusian opposition contacts have warned EU diplomats Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko might time an armed provocation to coincide with Polish National Independence Day on Thursday.

"We have the full support of Nato and the EU," Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said.

But on the other side, Russia, which has a mutual defence pact with Belarus under the Collective Security Treaty Organization, made an equal show of solidarity with its ally, indicating how the situation could turn even uglier.

"There is a scenario in which Russia could exploit [a potential military] ... crisis to position new weapons systems, such as tactical missiles, on the Belarusian-Polish border," an EU source said.

The new EU sanctions on Belarus are to be agreed by foreign and defence ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday.

Denmark had proposed an initial list of 25 to 30 names.

Diplomats could work through Saturday and Sunday in order to finalise the measures if need be, officials said.

And more sanctions, including on foreign airlines, travel agencies, or other firms who helped Lukashenko in "trafficking" migrants from the Middle East could follow, if Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, among others, did not halt flights.

The EU foreign ministers will also discuss long-term security strategy on Monday, including plans to create a 5,000-strong rapid reaction force by 2025.

"While Nato is and will remain the foundation of collective defence for its members, our strategic competitors should not question the EU's common resolve to respond to aggression and malicious activities against any one of our member states in accordance with article 42(7) of the Treaty on European Union," the EU plans to say in a 'Strategic Compass' document, according to a draft to be discussed at Monday's meeting.

But if EU diplomacy failed to stop the powder keg from erupting on the Polish-Belarus border, the timing might be as painful for its talk of strategic autonomy as for Poland's independence celebrations.

"The Strategic Compass is a political proposal to prevent the major risk the EU is facing: that of 'strategic shrinkage', or the risk of being always principled but seldom relevant," EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell is planning to say in his preamble to the EU 'Compass' document, which is to be formally adopted next March

Column

One rubicon after another

We realise that we are living in one of those key moments in history, with events unfolding exactly the way Swiss art historian Jacob Burckhardt describes them: a sudden crisis, rushing everything into overdrive.

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