France warns Russia as EU prepares sanctions against Belarus

France told Russia on Monday that NATO would be prepared to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty, close to where NATO says Moscow has been organizing a concentration of troops, while Western leaders sought to address a migrant crisis on Ukraine’s eastern borders. the European Union.

The European Union agreed to intensify sanctions against Belarus for thousands of migrants stranded in frozen forests on its borders with the EU. Belarus, a close ally of Russia, said claims that it had fueled the crisis were “absurd.”

Speaking by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin as part of a series of talks between Western leaders and Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, the French leader spoke of his great concern about the situation on Ukraine’s borders.

“The president reiterated our willingness to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” a Macron adviser told reporters about the conversation that Macron started.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously dismissed as “incorrect” a statement by the US State Department that the Belarusian border crisis was aimed at distracting attention from growing Russian military activity near Ukraine, another former Soviet republic. .

Polish soldiers and police officers observe migrants at the Polish-Belarusian border near Kuznica, Poland, in this photo released by the Territorial Defense Forces on November 12, 2021 (credit: IREK DOROZANSKI / DWOT / BROCHURE VIA REUTERS)

The EU is trying to stop what it says is Belarusian policy to push migrants towards it to avenge previous sanctions for cracking down on protests last year against the re-election of veteran leader Alexander Lukashenko.

Belarus and Russia have repeatedly denied any role.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday that NATO did not want to speculate on Russia’s intentions on Ukraine, adding: “We see an unusual concentration of troops, and we know that Russia has been willing to use this kind of military capabilities before. to carry out aggressive actions against Ukraine. “


The US Department of Defense said it continued to see Russia massing forces along with unusual military activity near its border with Ukraine. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the buildup was worrying and that US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will meet with his Ukrainian counterpart on Thursday.

Russian-backed separatists seized control of Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region in 2014 in a conflict that has continued. Moscow also annexed Crimea from Ukraine earlier that year after the former Soviet republic sought closer ties with the EU.

Moscow claims the waters of the Black Sea around Crimea, although most countries consider the peninsula to be still Ukrainian.

In the Kremlin’s reading of the call with Macron, Putin said the large-scale military exercises carried out by the United States and its allies in the Back Sea were a “provocation.”

“This is increasing tensions in relations between Russia and NATO,” the Kremlin said.

The two leaders also spoke about the migrant crisis. Macron’s adviser said they had agreed on the need for a de-escalation, while the Kremlin reiterated Russia’s insistence that the EU discuss it directly with Minsk.

Migrants, mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan, began showing up at Belarus’ land borders with the EU this year, trying to cross into member states Lithuania, Latvia and Poland via routes not used before.

The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said EU foreign ministers had agreed on a fifth package of sanctions and that it would be finalized in the coming days. They would target airlines, travel agencies and people involved in “this illegal push of migrants,” he said.

Latvia said on Monday it had deployed 3,000 troops for a previously unannounced military exercise near the border. Lithuania and Poland form the eastern flank of the EU and NATO, while Ukraine is not a member of any of the western groups.

Several hundred migrants, some throwing stones, made a new attempt on Monday to cross the border near the Polish village of Starzyna, but were forced back, Polish police said on Twitter.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Lukashenko spoke by phone about humanitarian aid for refugees and migrants, a German government spokesman said.

The talks are the first known contact between the Belarusian president and a Western leader since last year’s presidential elections in Belarus triggered mass protests by protesters accusing Lukashenko of electoral fraud, a charge he denies.

Merkel and Lukashenko agreed to continue their exchange, the spokesperson said, but gave no signs that a breakthrough had been made. Merkel has spoken to Putin twice in recent days.


Middle Eastern travel agencies working alongside operators in Belarus have provided tourist visas to thousands of people in recent months, a Reuters investigation showed.

The EU executive, the European Commission, said it was investigating whether other airlines should face sanctions after the bloc banned Belarus’ state airline Belavia from its skies and airports. Ireland said the EU’s aircraft leases with Belavia would also end.

Lukashenko said that Belarus was trying to persuade the migrants to go home, but that none wanted to return. Minsk would retaliate against any new EU sanctions, he said.

The EU has been stepping up sanctions against Belarus for months. The restrictions already in place include blacklisting Lukashenko, his son and 165 other Belarusian officials, as well as restrictions on trade in potash, a major export.

In Washington, the White House said it was in close contact with EU allies to hold the Belarusian government accountable.

The Kremlin, which has sent strategic bombers to patrol over Belarus, said Putin spoke with Lukashenko on Sunday and that Moscow had no plans to divert gas flows out of Belarus despite Minsk threatening to cut off transit to Europe through of the Yamal gas pipeline.

At least eight people have died along the 200 km long land border between Poland and Belarus, including from cold and exhaustion. The sparsely populated area of ‚Äč‚Äčlakes, swamps, and forests is becoming even more hostile to people trying to keep warm around bonfires during cold November nights.

Borrell from the EU urged Warsaw to allow humanitarian aid at the border, where Poland has deployed some 20,000 police, border guards and soldiers.

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