Lukashenko and the weaponization of migrants

Dr. Angelos Kaskanis

Project Manager - Tactics Institute

The migrant crisis at the Poland-Belarus border rumbles on with thousands still stranded on the Belarusian side.

The crisis began in late August, when Belarus began offering tourist visas to asylum seekers from the Middle East, then shepherded them to the borders of Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.

In response, neighbouring countries began to fortify their borders. Poland deployed around 12,000 troops to patrol an exclusion zone that runs along the border area. It also declared a state of emergency along the border which resulted in the closure of official crossing points.

The EU has accused Lukashenko of orchestrating the crisis in retaliation for sanctions it imposed on his government over a violent crackdown on opposition members, following his disputed election victory in 2020. It has been claimed that Belarusian authorities have been directing the flow of asylum seekers towards countries which are currently hosting the bulk of Belarusian political refugees and exiled opposition figures.

“His main motivation is to make the EU realise why it is better to be friends than enemies with him,” Artyom Shraibman, a Belarusian political analyst and non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Moscow Center told TACTICS.  “He wants the EU to give him his dues and appreciate his efforts in protecting the eastern part of the EU’s border. He desperately wants to be recognised as the real policy maker in the region who can solve problems, just as easily as create them.”

The EU also penalised Belarus for diverting a passenger jet to arrest a journalist on abroad earlier this year. For his part, Lukashenko has argued that sanctions have deprived his government of the funds necessary to block the migrants, while also accusing the EU of behaving inhumanly.

Caught in the middle are refugees, pawns in a geopolitical standoff that has already proved deadly. At least eight people have died as thousands of migrants have found themselves trapped in a densely wooded border zone with no food or shelter.

The EU is now threatening even more sanctions against the Belarusian government. In response, Belarus has threatened to cut off its transit of gas supply to Europe if the EU imposes further sanctions.

According to analysts, as well as wanting to punish EU countries for supporting sanctions on the country, Lukashenko wants to distract from domestic political pressures. Dissent in the country has been growing since last years elections with protests breaking out in opposition to Lukashenko’s rule.

A humanitarian crisis is unfolding as the threat of conflict grows. It’s a deadlock that risks igniting another migration crisis on the doorstep of the EU.

In order to understand the unveiling crisis on European borders, Tactics Institute spoke to the Belarusian opposition leader, Pavel Latushko. The former culture minister and ambassador to Poland, France, Spain, and Portugal, and erstwhile Belarusian representative to UNESCO, Latushko is a member of the country’s political elite. Since October 2020, he has been leading the National Crisis Management political body, a proto-government set up by the Belarusian opposition with the stated objective of facilitating a democratic transition.

Angelos Kaskanis (AK): Europe is once facing a humanitarian crisis around its borders. Who do you believe is to blame?

Pavel Latushko (PL): This is an artificially created migration, that was organized at Lukashenko’s order. His son, General Viktor Lukashenko, was responsible for this plan. He visited Middle Eastern countries and used state tourist companies and the forces of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, headed by Vladimir Makey, to organize the arrival of thousands of migrants to Belarus. This looks like human trafficking and international terrorism. Many UN conventions have been violated. He wants to carry out a border breakthrough as a tool to use people.

AK: So apart from the women and children, there are groups that have been trained for a mission to enter illegally European Union and create a crisis, a chaos that could led to regional conflict?

PL: According to my sources in the security apparatus, which I can trust, based on the special unit OSAM of the State Border Committee of Belarus, which is located in the village of Opsa in the Vitebsk region of Belarus, two separate groups were trained: 1. some Iraqis, 2. some Afghans who participated in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In late October, two military aircraft landed at the “Ayni” military base in Tajikistan, officially delivering cargo to the Tajik armed forces. At the same time, one of the IL-76 was carrying a group of intelligent service officers.

To organise a transitway for delivery of migrants from Afghanistan it was the first, 2 – the goal is to ensure the delivery of captured weapons from Afghanistan to Belarus and such weapons of American and Soviet production in early November to Belarus. This is a confidential source.

AK: This information is coming from diplomatic or military sources? It is quite fascinating that European Leaders might know this and still try to negotiate with Lukashenko. In conclusion, what do you believe is the purpose of these paramilitary groups?

PL: As a former ambassador, I know a lot of high-level officers of Belarusian special services, but I cannot disclose the names of those who help the democratic forces, for this they face the death penalty in Belarus.

As I said, these are small groups of several Iraqis and several Afghans, they were trained separately. I can add that there can be 2 goals: first, in extreme situations, use them to create a crisis on the line of the state border with the European Union. Second, and this is based on the statement of Minister of Internal Affairs Karpenkov, to destabilize the EU with an act of terrorism, an attack that can occur any time, as those groups just wait for a call, an order.

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