By Layla Guest
Alleged attempts by Belarus’ embattled leader Alexander Lukashenko to weaponize thousands of desperate migrants as part of an effort to put pressure on the EU have failed to divide its members, the bloc’s chief has insisted.
Speaking on Sunday during an official visit to neighboring Lithuania, which has seen a sharp rise in illegal crossings in recent months, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen reassured the Baltic States, as well as Poland, that Brussels is maintaining “full solidarity” with them amid the current humanitarian situation unfolding on their borders.
According to her, EU support includes equipment to manage their frontiers effectively, and the former German defense minister pointed out that Brussels had tripled funding for the three countries to €200 million in 2021 and 2022.
“Lukashenko has failed in his bid to undermine EU unity and solidarity. We are facing down this hybrid attack all together,” von der Leyen said. The bloc’s chief also said that it is important for Brussels to work “hand-in-hand” with NATO to respond to the crisis.
Minsk’s long-time leader pointed the finger at Washington last week, accusing the US of using the humanitarian crisis to wage its own conflict with Belarus “with the hands of the Poles, the Baltic states and the Ukrainians” in Eastern Europe.
Lukashenko also blasted calls for NATO to help resolve the situation, saying such a move would be nothing more than a provocation for a full-blown assault. He claimed that America “needs this war” but added that Europe has no appetite for combat.
The broadside from von der Leyen comes amid weeks of ongoing attempts by thousands of migrants from troubled countries like Iraq and Syria to cross over from Minsk into the EU. Brussels blames Belarus for putting on flights from these states and reportedly forcing them to storm the border fences as part of a “hybrid war” against Brussels.
In an interview earlier this month, Belarus’ embattled leader acknowledged it was possible that some of his officials were helping would-be asylum seekers cross over into Poland illegally, but said that this was not worth investigating.
Lukashenko has previously insisted that Belarus’ government is unable to stop the flow of migrants attempting to pass into neighboring EU states due to the effects of economic sanctions imposed by the bloc against the former Soviet republic.
Brussels widened its embargoes against Minsk after Lukashenko declared victory in last year’s presidential election, in what the bloc has labeled as a “fraudulent vote”. The opposition and many international observers have insisted that the poll was rigged, with thousands injured or detained after taking to the streets across the country in protest.