Ukraine strengthens its border with Belarus in the face of the migration crisis and the Russian threat | International

Members of the Ukrainian border guard carry out maneuvers on the border with Belarus, in the Volyn region, on November 11.
Members of the Ukrainian border guard carry out maneuvers on the border with Belarus, in the Volyn region, on November 11.Reuters

The crisis on the border between Poland and Belarus, where thousands of migrants wait in the hope of being able to enter the EU, fuels tension in Ukraine as well. Kiev has announced that it will strengthen its border with Belarus, until now very porous, and is considering reserving funds from next year’s budget to build a fence of more than 2,500 kilometers on its borders with Russia and Belarus. The migration crisis at the gates of the cold winter and the increasing proximity between Moscow and Minsk have raised even more the alarm in Kiev, already on alert for the accumulation of Russian troops next to its territory in a movement that recalls, according to the warnings NATO, which led to the illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014.

Ukraine has already deployed 15 helicopters, two planes and 44 drones on its borders. In addition, Parliament has authorized the border guard to use military equipment and firearms. On Thursday, the Interior Ministry reported that it had intercepted a group of 15 people, originating from Middle Eastern countries, who were trying to enter the country illegally from neighboring Belarus. The European Union has accused authoritarian leader Aleksandr Lukashenko of orchestrating the crisis, transporting migrants and helping them cross borders illegally into Poland and Lithuania (EU members) in response to the sanctions that the Union imposed on Minsk for the harsh repression of civil society and the opposition.

Kiev not only fears becoming another link in the humanitarian crisis – after which it also sees the Kremlin’s hand with the aim of destabilizing Europe – but it has also begun to perceive its 1,100 kilometers of border with Belarus (or at least some strategic points ) as a security issue. “It can be a source of real threat,” assures EL PAÍS the Foreign Minister of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba. “Before this crisis, our border with Belarus was almost 100% transparent, because Ukraine never expected any hostile action from Belarus. Now, seeing how Moscow and Minsk get closer and closer and how Lukashenko’s rhetoric changes, we understand that it can pose a risk, ”says Kuleba.

Moscow is Lukashenko’s only European ally, who has a complex relationship with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The Belarusian president, who once boasted of being the buffer between Russia and the West, is increasingly close to Moscow out of necessity, although he continues to resist deeper integration with his powerful neighbor. Minsk hosted in 2015 the talks to end the Donbas conflict, where the war with the Ukrainian separatists supported militarily and politically by Moscow has already claimed some 14,000 lives, and there the agreements were signed that were to mark the way for the end of hostilities. The situation today is very different, and some observers fear that Lukashenko will even end up recognizing Crimea – which Moscow annexed after a referendum considered illegal by the international community and with a military presence in the territory – as Russian.

Russia and Belarus have reinforced their military collaboration in recent months with new maneuvers. Last week, Moscow sent paratroopers to the vicinity of the Belarusian-Polish border to carry out other joint exercises (in which two paratroopers were killed) and also bombers with military capabilities to patrol the region. At the same time, it maintains about 114,000 soldiers along the Ukrainian borders, according to estimates by Western intelligence agencies and the Ukrainian security forces; as well as heavy weapons that he left there last spring, when his maneuvers put NATO and the EU on serious alert.

The Kremlin denies any aggressive intention, accuses NATO of threatening Russia, crossing its “red lines” and having a “provocative” activity in Ukraine with supplies of weapons and maneuvers in the Black Sea, and assures that it maintains the tension to “Prevent conflict”. “Our recent warnings have been noted and taken effect,” Putin said Thursday. “There has been some tension there and we need it to continue so that no one occurs to cause a conflict that we do not need on our western borders,” he added.

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Russian troop movements, which have again raised security warnings from the Atlantic Alliance and Brussels, are causing extreme concern in Kiev. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, visiting Washington, asked the US for more help to defend the country’s airspace and coast. “We need to cover our sky and our sea,” Reznikov said after his meeting with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Conversations for de-escalation in the migration crisis

Belarus assures that the crisis on its border with Poland and Lithuania, where there are some 7,000 migrants who aspire to cross the EU, has been produced, among other things, by the European sanctions against Minsk. In particular, due to Brussels’ restriction on international border security technical assistance projects, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry says in a statement, which mentions a planned project to build a center for migrants in an irregular situation. Belarus “was deprived of the opportunities and resources necessary to continue with the same volume of work to solve common problems of migration,” says Foreign, which ensures that Minsk is open to cooperation.

Some 2,000 migrants were transferred by the Belarusian authorities from the freezing makeshift camps in the open air to a makeshift shelter in a warehouse near the Kuznica border crossing with Poland, where Belarusian soldiers and volunteers have provided them with eight tons of food and hot tea daily. While conversations for de-escalation continue to take place. This week Belarusian leader Aleksandr Lukashenko spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. And this Friday, a German government spokesman reported that the chancellor had spoken with the heads of the UN Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration about the humanitarian crisis at the border.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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