Western leaders have accused Belarus of fabricating a migration crisis on the EU’s eastern border in retaliation for sanctions for human rights abuses. The government of President Alexander Lukashenko has repeatedly denied such claims, blaming the West for the crossings and accusing it of mistreating migrants.
Russia, Belarus’ largest political and economic partner, continues to defend Minsk’s handling of the border crisis while denying any involvement in it.
“I want to tell you something else. I want everyone to know. We have absolutely nothing to do with it. Everyone is trying to hold us accountable for any reason and for no reason,” Putin said in an interview broadcast on Saturday. by state broadcaster Russia 24.
“Our aviation companies are not transporting these people. None of our companies are.”
Putin added that Lukashenko also claimed not to have any involvement through Belarus’ national airline, Belavia.
“By the way, Belavia, as Alexander Grigorievich [Lukashenko] He told me, he’s not transporting them either. They book charter flights, it’s a visa-free entry, people buy tickets and fly. Yes, there are certain groups involved in transporting these people to European countries, but they have been operating for a long time, “Putin said.
Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei said on Friday that the Belarusian side was doing everything possible to reduce the flow of migrants.
Meanwhile, Poland has deployed 15,000 troops to the border to prevent illegal crossings, the Polish defense minister said on Wednesday. Some 4,500 people have tried to cross the border since the beginning of this month, according to the Polish Border Guard.
The Polish Border Guard on Saturday accused Belarusian authorities of equipping migrants with tear gas.
“A group of about 100 migrants waited for the possibility of an illegal border crossing. Belarusians equipped foreigners with tear gas, which was used towards Polish services. This and subsequent attempts to cross illegally [the border] they were prevented, “the border guard said via Twitter. No photos or videos were released to provide evidence of the allegations.
The border guard also reiterated his claim that Belarusian authorities were using lasers and strobes against Polish security services at the border, and accused Belarusian soldiers of damaging a border fence near the Polish city of Czeremcha.
Each side has accused the other of spreading misinformation as the crisis unfolds.
Syrian man found dead
Meanwhile, thousands of people remain trapped between Poland and Belarus in conditions that the United Nations has called “catastrophic”. Desperate scenes of hunger and hypothermia unfold in the forests and makeshift camps on the border as the geopolitical feud intensifies.
Belarusian State Border Committee officials told CNN on Friday that the migrant camp near the Bruzgi-Kuznica border crossing with Poland was expected to double in size within a week if the refugee crisis remains unresolved.
About 2,000 people are currently waiting in the border region, but hundreds continue to show up daily, officials told CNN, and Belarusian state border officials estimate the number will rise to 5,000 in a week.
The body of a young Syrian was found on Friday in the forest near the Polish-Belarusian border near Wólka Terechowska, about 80 miles south of Kuznica, according to a tweet from Polish police.
“The activities carried out at the place where the body was found did not make it possible to unequivocally determine the cause of death,” police said.
Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski on Saturday called the growing crisis an “attack” on the European Union, of which Poland is a member state.
“We are dealing with an attack on the entire European Union using an artificially created migration crisis. It is about creating a migration route from Eastern Europe. Everyone knows this, both in Europe and in the United States,” he posted on Twitter.
Kaminski added that he had spoken with his German counterpart, Horst Seehofer, whom Kaminski said had offered his support in building a border wall.
US President Joe Biden told reporters late Friday that the situation on the Belarus-Poland border was “very worrying.”
“We have communicated our concern to Russia. We have communicated our concern to Belarus. We believe it is a problem,” Biden said.
Neighboring Ukraine is also increasing security. On Thursday, it announced that it would conduct military drills with some 8,500 military personnel and 15 helicopters in an area near its borders with Poland and Belarus to counter a possible migration crisis.
The show of force unfolding in the region continues to test a fragile political order, and US allegations of Russia’s military build-up deepen concerns about the potential for a broader geopolitical crisis.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that the United States was “concerned by reports of unusual Russian military activity” and raised the possibility that Russia may be “attempting to repeat” its 2014 invasion of Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded to the allegations on Friday, saying they represented an “empty and unfounded escalation of tensions.”
In turn, Putin criticized NATO’s “unscheduled” drills in the Black Sea in Russia’s 24 interview broadcast on Saturday.
“It seems they just keep us on our toes. Well, they should know that we are on our toes,” Putin said.
“The United States and its NATO allies are now conducting – I want to emphasize – unscheduled exercises in the Black Sea. Not only has a rather powerful naval group been formed, but aviation is also used in the course of these exercises, including strategic aviation, “Putin said. “This is a great challenge for us.”
CNN’s Antonia Mortensen reported from Kuznica, Anna Chernova from Moscow and Duarte Mendonca from London. CNN’s Matthew Chance, Zahra Ullah, and Allie Malloy contributed to this report.