Tensions on the European Union’s eastern border escalated sharply this week as Polish border guards repulsed a wave of some 4,000 asylum seekers and migrants seeking to cross from Belarus. Poland has mobilized 15,000 soldiers to the region to prevent people from crossing, and Belarusian security forces are not allowing the migrants to turn back. The migrants are sleeping rough as temperatures plunge below freezing; a 14-year-old boy froze to death, becoming at least the eleventh person to have died attempting to cross the border. There are fears the situation could result in a military confrontation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin—an ally of Belarus’ authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko—brushed off an appeal from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to intervene. The Polish parliament on Oct. 14 approved a bill calling for building a border wall on the frontier with Belarus, which is now under construction. Poland accuses Belarus of allowing migrants to transit through the country and enter Poland as revenge for the EU imposing sanctions against Belarus earlier this year in response to human rights abuses. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen accused Belarus of using the migrants in a “hybrid attack.” The EU is now threatening more sanctions, and Belarus is threatening to cut off gas supplies to the EU through the Yamal-Europe pipeline. (TNH, Jurist, DW)