Poland’s defence minister has warned that the crisis on the Belarusian border could last for months, saying migrants had been “attacking the Polish border” again during the night.
Polish forces on Tuesday fired teargas and deployed water cannon against people trying to cross over in an escalation of a months-long standoff on the EU’s eastern border.
Belarus on Wednesday said its investigators had opened a criminal case against Polish border guards for crimes against humanity over the clashes at the border, as Minsk tried to pin the blame for the crisis on the west.
Thousands of people, mainly from the Middle East, are camped out on the border in what the west says is a crisis engineered by Belarus to divide the EU and hit back against sanctions, charges Minsk has denied.
We have to prepare for the fact that the situation on the Polish-Belarusian border will not be resolved quickly. We have to prepare for months. I hope not for years,” Mariusz Błaszczak, the Polish defence minister, told Poland’s Radio Jedynka on Wednesday.
Brussels on Wednesday announced that it would donate €700,000 to deliver food, blankets, hygiene and first aid kits to asylum-seekers trapped at the border. “Europe is at the side of the people trapped at the border with Belarus,” said Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the EU Commission. “We are ready to do more. But the Belarusian regime must stop luring people and putting their lives at risk.”
That announcement came after Belarus moved an estimated 1,000 migrants into a warehouse in the border region in what it called a humanitarian gesture. Video published by Belarusian state news agencies showed that migrants slept on mattresses on the floor of the transport and logistics facility. International news reports said families were given a hot meal and children were given juice or milk.
However, videos on Wednesday showed that hundreds of people remained in the forests on the border with Poland and Lithuania, where authorities said they were continuing to face attacks on border defences.
Błaszczak said attempts to cross the border had continued during the night, adding that people had used the same “method of attacking the Polish border” as on Tuesday. “The public attention focused on what happened in Kuźnica, while smaller groups of migrants tried to break through the Polish border in other sections, also at night,” he said.
The border guard service said it had detected “161 attempts at illegal crossing” on Tuesday, including “two forceful attempts to cross the border registered during the evening”.
Polish police on Wednesday said nine officers were injured in the clashes on Tuesday, along with a border guard and a soldier. Police said no injured officers were still in hospital.
Belarus on Wednesday temporarily limited oil deliveries through the Druzhba pipeline to Poland. Gomeltransneft, the Belarusian oil pipeline operator, said it was carrying out unscheduled maintenance on the pipeline, Russian state media reported, and the work would not affect monthly targets for oil supplies.
But the temporary shutdown coincided with threats by Lukashenko to shut down gas supplies to Europe in retaliation for new sanctions against his regime.
It also comes a day after Germany announced a temporary suspension of the certification process for NordStream 2, a new gas pipeline that has been criticised by European governments as a Kremlin tool of coercion.
New EU sanctions are also expected to target airlines, travel firms, and other means of transport for thousands of migrants to the Belarusian border with Poland and Lithuania.
Poland and Lithuania have announced states of emergency in the border region and have prevented NGOs and journalists from accessing the “secure zone”. Press Club Polska, a Polish press organisation, reported that three journalists had been pulled from their car, handcuffed, and had their equipment searched in the village of Wiejki on Tuesday by men in Polish army uniforms. They sustained minor injuries and were released after police arrived.
European governments have called for Vladimir Putin to step in and put pressure on Lukashenko to end the crisis. But the Kremlin has continued to insist on direct talks between Lukashenko and European governments, mainly Germany, calling itself just an observer.
Referring to talks between the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and Lukashenko, a Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said: “It is very important that contact has been made between representatives of the EU and the leadership of Belarus.” The meeting was Lukashenko’s first direct contact with a western leader since he brutally suppressed protests in 2020.