EU imposes new sanctions on Belarus as NATO warns Russia of military build-up

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday warned Moscow against “possible aggressive actions” amid a large concentration of Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders, deepening concerns about the potential for a broader geopolitical crisis. .

“We have to be lucid, we have to be realistic about the challenges we face. And what we see is a large, significant Russian military build-up,” Stoltenberg said at a press conference with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Brussels.

Although he said he did not want to speculate on Russia’s intentions, he added: “We see an unusual concentration of troops and we know that Russia has been willing to use these kinds of military capabilities before to carry out aggressive actions against Ukraine.” Ukraine is not a member of NATO or the EU.

Secretary of state Antony blinken He said last week that Russia’s recent moves were reminiscent of its 2014 invasion of Crimea.

NATO’s words of caution come days after Russia and Belarus deployed their military might near Poland in joint paratrooper drills.

Russia, Belarus’ largest political and economic partner, continues to defend Minsk’s handling of the border crisis while denying any involvement in it.

On Monday, the EU increased pressure on all parties involved in the border crisis. The bloc’s head of Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, announced at a press conference in Brussels that the EU foreign ministers have agreed to impose new sanctions on “people, airlines, travel agencies and all those involved in this illegal push by immigrants against our borders”.

The complete list of people and entities would be “confirmed in the next few days,” he added. This will be the fifth round of sanctions imposed on Belarus by the EU after a disputed presidential election and the crackdown on dissidents.

Borrell said earlier on Monday that he had spoken with the Belarusian foreign minister over the weekend, telling him that “the situation at the border was completely unacceptable and that humanitarian aid was needed.”

Thousands of people are trapped in freezing conditions near the Ku┼║nica-Bruzgi checkpoint, trying to cross into Poland. Polish border guards used loudspeakers on Monday to warn people that force can be used against them if they do not follow orders. Authorities also deployed a helicopter and a water cannon to the area, although the water cannon has not been used. A column of police vehicles has been seen approaching the border.

Poland, Lithuania and Latvia are considering activating NATO Article 4 on the crisis. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told the Polish Press Agency on Sunday that his government is in talks with Latvia and Lithuania on the activation of the article, which calls for consultations when “the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the parties are threatened. “

Children caught in Belarus-Poland border crisis face bitter nights without shelter

Katarzyna Zdanowicz, a spokeswoman for the Polish Border Guard, told CNN on Monday morning that around 4,000 people were camped along the border and that the situation was “very tense and very dangerous.”

Zdanowicz said there were “massive forced attempts to cross the border” in the Kuznica area by a group of 60 people on Sunday night. Those who tried to cross behaved “aggressively,” according to the border guard service. Stones and branches were thrown at the Polish border police, he said, adding that the weapons were “pointed at our military” and a “flare gun” was fired at them.

More people were heading to the area on Monday. A CNN team witnessed thousands of people at the Bruzgi migrant camp in Belarus picking up their suitcases and moving toward the Polish border on Monday morning.

A rumor began to circulate in the countryside that the Polish government could open the border and allow a humanitarian corridor to Germany. Poland has flatly denied this and people gathered in the area have received text messages from the Polish authorities saying the information was a “total lie and nonsense”.

The SMS message, also received by members of the CNN team in the area, reads in part: “Poland will not allow immigrants to pass into Germany. It will protect its border. Do not be fooled, do not try to take any action.”

People gather near the Belarusian-Polish border crossing in Kuznica on November 15, 2021.

The Belarusian State Border Committee said that people heading to the border have “purely peaceful intentions,” according to Belarus’ state media BelTA.

“The refugees gathered warm clothes, tents, sleeping bags, hoping for a positive outcome of the situation. At noon, they self-organized in a large column and began to move towards the Bruzgi checkpoint,” Anton Bychkovsky, the Official representative of the border committee, he was quoted as saying.

Katharina Krebs of CNN in Moscow and Allegra Goodwin and Niamh Kennedy in London contributed to this report.

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