The migration crisis in Belarus, the EU’s weaknesses and the scenarios of the Lukashenko regime.

Belarus, Minsk: Actors performing a theater play. © Pierre Crom

“The migration crisis caused by the Lukashenko regime on the border with Poland highlights that the EU’s external borders can be destabilized from all directions, including from the East…”

Belarus once again occupies an urgent place on the European Union (EU) agenda, this time due to the migration crisis caused by the Alexander Lukashenko regime. The situation has already deteriorated into a humanitarian crisis, and the involvement of the army on both sides of the Polish-Belarusian border is militarizing the crisis, creating dangerous conditions for armed clashes between NATO members (Poland) and the Belarusian forces. Membership of the Union of States with Russia and the Collective Security Treaty Organization may also lead to Russia’s involvement in a possible military conflict siding with Minsk. The situation is not expected to improve at this time unless Lukashenko gives in as a result of new sanctions (an unlikely option) or diplomatic arrangements, which will give him the appearance of minimal external recognition.

Meanwhile, the European side reiterated that Belarus has “orchestrated” the use of illegal migration as a “hybrid attack” (EU, November 2021). Although the organized transport of migrants from the Middle East to the Belarusian border with Latvia, Lithuania and Poland started in the summer of 2021, the problem only worsened after the flow of migrants concentrated in the Polish direction. Tens of thousands of Polish soldiers have been mobolized to protect the eastern border. The EU has expressed its solidarity with the Polish side and the new sectoral sanctions that will affect Belarusian aviation and tourism service providers from 15 November 2021. At the same time, Brussels has requested border access for organizations humanitarian agencies, without specifying whether the request is also addressed to Poland or only to Belarus.

The new episode of tension in relations with the EU comes almost seven months after the forced descent of the Ryanair plane, created to detain opposition journalist Roman Protasevici. This action by Minsk was the basis for the fourth sanctions package, which targeted not only officials but also 15 companies, some of which were vital to Belarusian industry in terms of number of employees and budget revenue. In addition to companies subject to economic sanctions, there are some 166 people in the EU database (including Aleksandr Lusanko), who face individual travel restrictions and asset freezing, respectively. Despite these pressures against the Belarusian leadership, no serious cracks have yet appeared on the surface of the Minsk regime. On the contrary, internally, the regime is trying to consolidate itself, using an aggressive repressive mechanism against the opposition, media institutions and communication platforms. The persecution perpetrated by the Belarusian authorities has reached enormous proportions: some 35,000 people have been detained since 2020, of which 830 are classified as prisoners of conscience, and the number of NGOs subject to verification and liquidation is almost 270 (EU, November 2021). This grim result goes beyond the cruelty and scale of the crackdown of the civic and political opposition in Russia. At the same time, Lukashenko is accelerating the integration processes with Russia (the Union State) and counts on economic cooperation with organizations in the post-Soviet space, in particular the Eurasian Economic Union (and the CIS, Collective Security Treaty Organization), to mitigate the effects of pressure from the West. Relations with China and other international markets are equally important to the Lukashenko regime.

At the same time, the situation on the eastern front of the EU is aggravated by the intensification of the Russian military presence in the Donbas and Lugansk region segment of the border with Ukraine (about 100,000 soldiers). As a result, the EU runs the risk of again facing several security problems in its eastern neighborhood at the same time. This does not mean more than a greater need for dialogue with Russia, not only on Ukraine but also on Belarus. Thus, Vladimir Putin could become an essential facilitator of the dialogue (already initiated) between the EU or the representatives of the member states (such as the ongoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel) and Aleksandr Lukashenko. The latter seeks the greatest possible external recognition to lower the political profile of the opposition in the exile, headed by Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Velika Kladusa: A discarded box of aid provided by the European Union is seen near the border with the European Union. © Pierre Crom
Source: Frontex.europa.eu
Belarus, Minsk: Workers have a conversation in the Belarusian State Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War. © Pierre Crom

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Subjectio

Subjectio

Subjectio.org examines influences exercised by the West and Russia in Southeast and Eastern Europe.