The migrant attack, which has been going on at the western borders of Belarus for months, has reached new frontiers in recent weeks. It has not only become the main topic of the world media, but also poses a threat to the unity of the European Union. However, its initiators also have problems.
But, first things first. First of all, the Alexander Lukashenko regime is only an enforcer, if you like – a dispatcher of pressure on Poland and Lithuania (Latvia hardly feels the presence of migrants on its border with Belarus). Although Alexander Lukashenko promised a few years ago to use migrants to make the European Union more accommodating, today Vladimir Putin can be seen behind his back. The President of Russia is not at risk of being labelled at a pan-European level as being involved in the migration crisis, the Kremlin prefers to talk about mediation.
Many journalists and experts have not yet forgotten the migration crisis of 2015-2016, when about a million people from the Middle East and North Africa, dramatically stranded on the European coast of the Mediterranean Sea, made their way towards the ‘Promised Land’ of Germany. Germany took in more than half of the refugees, while Poland and Hungary simply refused to let them stay. The ruling of the EU court that Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic refused to accept refugees was handed down in 2020 and could only make the conflict among members of the European Union deeper. A few dozen refugees temporarily settled in each of the Baltic States stayed for a short time, moving on to Germany, France and the UK.
I would like to point out another peculiarity that is important for understanding the situation. Unlike in 2015-2016, there is a concentration of migrants on the territory of Belarus, each of whom paid several thousand dollars to get closer to the borders of the European Union. Most of them are Kurds – representatives of the world’s largest nation without a state, many of whose relatives and friends have settled in Germany and Western Europe. However, the Belarusian and Russian media prefer to promote the term ‘refugees’, which arouses sympathy among European philistines and human rights activists.
The technological implementation of the current crisis looks deliberate. The Kremlin had studied regulations of Lithuania and Poland beforehand, after which it began the process of filling migrant camps in the territory of the largest Baltic States back in summer. Just in July they were overcrowded, after which the spearhead of the hybrid attack was directed against Poland. The imposition of the state of emergency at the border areas of Lithuania and Poland played into the hands of Belarus and Russia, as it significantly limited the ability of local journalists to cover the situation. As a result, practically the whole world got a chance to watch footage from the migrant camp filmed by Belarusian and Russian propagandists, in which elements of post-truth become very noticeable. How else to explain that we are offered to see first of all suffering of women and children, and not to appreciate the large number of young men, who make up the majority in the migrants’ camp at the Bruzgi – Kuznitsa checkpoint. And these professionally compassionate stories look far more appealing than statements by Lithuanian or Polish authorities.
The stance of Russia deserves separate attention. The Kremlin is clearly visible behind Alexander Lukashenko’s back, yet most European Union countries prefer to whip the illegitimate President of Belarusia rather than consolidate to respond to hybrid pressure of Russia. Vladimir Putin seeks to undermine the EU by targeting states in which conservative sentiment is strong. The tactical objective here is to launch Nord Stream2 as soon as possible against the backdrop of contradictions between EU countries, and the strategic objective is to break up the European Union from within. The Kremlin has most likely also taken into account the notable contradictions between Warsaw and Brussels that have been observed recently. At the same time, Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki stressed that Poland in this case is protecting the whole of Europe from the invasion of migrants.
In a curious position, Alexander Lukashenko, who has beaten Vladimir Putin this year in the competition for the status of “the last dictator of Europe’, finds himself in a curious position. Since the forced landing of the plane with Roman Protasiewicz on board, Alexander Lukashenko has cemented his image as a politician with whom dialogue is extremely difficult. But the concentration of migrants on the border of Belarus and Poland, reinforced by Vladimir Putin’s request, has prompted acting Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel to hold two telephone conversations with Alexander Lukashenko. Their Belarusian propaganda, supervised by Russia since August 2020, has tried to pass them off as recognition of Alexander Lukashenko as the legitimate head of Belarus, but this is not the case. I note that President of Poland Andrzej Duda has assured that his country will not implement any agreements between Germany and Belarus reached without its participation, and the G-7 has condemned the action of the Belarusian authorities in the migration crisis and expressed solidarity with Poland and the Baltic States.
The high-profile and sensitive migration crisis cannot continue indefinitely. Its resolution will be pushed not only by the steadfastness of the Polish military and border guards, but also by the approaching Christmas season, which will interrupt even powerful information signals. Probable worsening weather conditions are unlikely to add to the enthusiasm of migrants at the border. Another factor is the formation of a new coalition format in Germany, where the new chancellor Olaf Scholz is much more sceptical about Alexander Lukashenko. Therefore, the initiators of the border crisis will have to act faster, demonstrating their intentions more clearly.
Evgen Magda, Institute of World Politics