Since August 2020, the EU has imposed sanctions on Belarus in response to the ‘neither free, nor fair’ presidential election of Alexander Lukashenko, as well as his military’s violent suppression of peaceful protestors and journalists opposing the party in power. In retaliation, Lukashenko’s regime has aimed to destabilise the EU through fuelling illegal movement of migrants into the EU. Lukashenko is exploiting the desperation of migrants travelling from war-torn countries in the Middle East and using them as pawns in his political warfare with the EU. Belarusian soldiers are actively encouraging migrants to travel freely through Belarus, with the false promise of open borders into the EU bloc via Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania. Free travel is advertised through the ‘tourist’ packages being sold to migrants, which reportedly cost between $3,000 and $4,000 and include a Belarusian visa and flight tickets to Minsk.
Lukashenko’s weaponisation of migrants has generated a humanitarian crisis, trapping thousands in sub-zero temperatures with no access to food or shelter. The manipulation of refugees by Minask has significant security ramifications for the entirety of the EU, especially Ukraine. Lukashenko, with support from Russia, aims to undermine European security in order to expose the vulnerability of the bloc. Lukashenko has largely achieved his goals, as Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki recently declared a state of emergency and Ukrainian officials are warning the EU and the United States of the potential threat Belarus poses to the security of the region.
Lukashenko’s success stems from his use of hybrid warfare, as the EU is unprepared to face the moral, political, and strategic challenges posed by Belarus. Political and moral divisions are visible when it comes to the security of the EU’s borders; however, this must not happen at the expense of basic human rights. It is essential that EU border guards restrain from violence, as this will only prove Lukashenko’s claim of EU hypocrisy. Despite the Union’s commitment to peace, the likelihood of conflict has only escalated. Two Russian nuclear capable bombers, escorted by Belarusian fighter jets, have been patrolling the Belarus-Poland border and up to 15,000 Polish soldiers, with support from land and air defences, have been deployed to suppress any breakthroughs by migrants. Lukashenko’s carefully cultivated crisis has provided the foundation for an active war zone and once again Europe could be divided by East and West, as Belarus’s authoritarian regime threatens the jurisdictive power of the EU and regional stability.
Despite inciting this migrant crisis, Lukashenko is being backed up by Moscow’s guiding hand. In recent weeks, Russian military activity has increased in Crimea and the Donbas area, as Putin looks to capitalise on EU uncertainty and lack of decisive action. The Kremlin has interpreted current European affairs as an indication that the EU is weak and divided. Even with existing sanctions and the threat of further economic repercussions, Lukashenko’s blackmail of the EU by weaponising migrants has proved successful by making Ukraine vulnerable to Russian infiltration, proving sanctions are no longer an effective tool of deterrence.
Furthermore, Lukashenko’s migrant warfare is strengthening anti-immigrant sentiment across the continent, facilitating Russia’s attempts to undermine Western liberal democracies. Growing support for right-wing parties will weaken the influence of the EU and its overall support as an effective overseeing institution, increasing the threat to the Union’s security .
Hybrid warfare against the EU is unlikely to end as President Lukashenko has clearly stated that any further sanctions directed towards Belarus or Russia will be met by a cut in European gas supply. The Yamal-Europe gas pipeline travels through Belarus and provides Poland and Germany with a significant proportion of Europe’s gas consumption. With winter approaching and gas prices continuing to rise, implementing new sanctions may not be in the EU’s short term interest.
The European Union’s failure to successfully diffuse Lukashenko’s weaponisation of migrants has placed the future of EU security at great risk. It is in neither Belarus’ or Russia’s interest to de-escalate their aggressive political and military engagements with Europe because so far, their actions have resulted in the greatest disruption to EU liberal democracies since the Cold War.
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