Belarus Crisis Grows Worse, by Ted Galen Carpenter

Why should the U.S. worry about an immigration dispute between Belarus on the one hand and Poland and Lithuania on the other? Particularly when U.S. involvement might bring Russia into the fray. From Ted Galen Carpenter at

It is a dangerous folly for the United States to extend security guarantees to small nations that quarrel with their neighbors.

The long-simmering feud between Belarus and several of its NATO neighbors (especially Poland and Lithuania) over the flow of refugees from the Middle East is escalating rapidly. On November 10, the European Union accused Belarus of mounting a “hybrid attack” by pushing migrants across the border into Poland. Poland and the Baltic republics have bolstered their security forces along their frontiers with Belarus to block the migrants trying to enter their countries. Thousands of hapless refugees are now stuck in makeshift camps in what amounts to a geographic no-man’s-land, and conditions there are becoming appalling.

It would be bad enough if the border crisis only involved humanitarian considerations, but the issue is taking on a military dimension. Britain has sent a small contingent of troops to Poland’s eastern frontier to show support for its NATO ally. On November 12, Russia and Belarus commenced joint snap paratrooper drills in Western Belarus, raising tensions another notch. More ominously, Moscow sent nuclear-capable bombers to patrol the skies over Belarus, emphasizing the Kremlin’s commitment to the security of that country and to Alexander Lukashenko’s government. Lukashenko has made his own contribution to the mounting tensions by threatening to cut off the transit of natural gas supplies from Russia to Poland and Germany—a step that would be quite worrisome on the eve of the winter season.

Both sides are engaging in dangerous and destructive posturing. There is little doubt that Belarus is exploiting the refugee flow to put pressure on its western neighbors. Minsk has provided financial incentives to encourage migrants to come to Belarus with promises that they will be able to gain asylum in the European Union’s eastern members and find new opportunities there. Reports also indicate that Belarusian authorities even supply the migrants with guides and maps to help them find the border, as well as wire cutters to deal with fences and other physical impediments there.

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