Belarus, Poland clashes continue

Poland uses tear gas against migrants; EU agrees to broker cross-party talks

By Sophie Boulter and Griffin Brammer, World News Editor and Digital Communications Manager

Polish authorities used water cannons and tear gas against migrants from Belarus on Tuesday as clashes along the Poland-Belarus border continue. On Wednesday, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko agreed to begin talks with the European Union to end the migrant standoff. 

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Lukashenko agreed to talks with the EU after it threatened to impose more sanctions on Belarus. Meanwhile, the EU and Poland have accused Belarus of encouraging migrants to enter Poland to destabilize the EU.

The Polish government has so far denied EU assistance in the conflict but agreed to close the large migrant camp by the Kuznica border between Poland and Belarus.

The EU accuses Belarus of sending migrants to the Polish border to disrupt and destabilize the EU. 

European Parliament President David Sassoli said, “(I am) alarmed by the situation at the Polish-Belarusian border. The Belarusian regime must stop exploiting migrants and asylum seekers for political power games.”

“We call on Poland to accept the EU’s offer to help vulnerable people in an orderly manner and prevent a further escalation,” he said. 

Lukashenko denied these allegations but agreed to begin talks with the EU after it threatened to ramp up sanctions against the country. These sanctions would constitute the fifth round of the bloc’s sanctions against Belarus.

“(The) problem should be raised to the level of Belarus-EU (relations) and officials appointed by each side should immediately start negotiations,” a spokesman for Lukashenko said. 

According to a Polish border guard, there have been 161 illegal crossing attempts since  Tuesday, with two of them being classified as “forceful.”

 “The public attention focused on what happened in Kuznica… (but) smaller groups of migrants tried to break through the Polish border in other sections, also at night,” the Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak explained.

“We have to prepare for the fact that the situation on the Polish-Belarusian border will not be resolved quickly,” Blaszczak said.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken affirmed his support for Poland and expressed disagreement with what he perceived as Belarus’s efforts to “sow division.”

“(I) spoke yesterday with Polish Foreign Minister Rau to reaffirm our solidarity in the face of Lukashenko’s hybrid campaign on the Poland-Belarus border, which seeks to threaten security, sow division and distract from Russia’s activities on the border with Ukraine,” Blinken said. 

Connor Driscoll-Natale, a sophomore nursing major, expressed his frustration with Belarus but argued for US restraint in its response to the crisis.

“Belarus needs to pick up their slack. There was (a) major party foul on both sides,” said Driscoll-Natale. 

“Overall, this is a really tenuous situation… The U.S. should not get involved,” he added. 

The migrants currently reside in temporary shelter in Belarus.