Poland-Belarus border crisis: “The US and the EU should use the full potential of the diplomatic toolbox”

Krzysztof Szczerski, Poland's ambassador to the UN, talks to The America Times about a border emergency that continues to unfold between his country, thousands of migrants and neighboring Belarus.

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Amid fears that an ongoing crisis involving thousands of migrants, most of whom are from the Middle East and who have found themselves trapped in no man’s land between the territorial boundaries of EU member Poland and its eastern neighbor Belarus. An increasing number of officials, including Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, have sounded the alarm that the growing tensions between Warsaw’s border guards, their Belarussian counterparts and the migrants ignite a far more volatile incident, officials from all sides have worked to descalate the tense standoff.

The United States and European Union have accused Belarus of flying in thousands of people from the Middle East and pushing them to illegally cross into Poland, Lithuania and Latvia; nations that are on both the EU’s and NATO’s extreme eastern flank. Belarus has repeatedly denied that it has fomented the crisis, which has calmed down since Minsk organized repatriation flights to Iraq and the Belarussian government began clearing out some of the migrant camps. 

“Poland has been entrusted with the protection of NATO and EU’s external borders and Warsaw is only fulfilling this duty to guarantee stability.”

To discuss the situation, Poland’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Krzysztof Szczerski, discussed the matter in and exclusive Q&A with The America Times’ chief editor, Nicholas Waller:

The America Times (AT): In your statement to the UN Security Council you called “on those who stand behind the Belarussian regime to quit the policy of building tensions in favour of the policy of solving tensions”. Could you please elaborate further on the details of what those countries could do to encourage discourage Belarus from further inflaming the situation and convince Minsk to work with Poland and other countries to find a sustainable and achievable resolution to the current crisis?

Amb. Krzysztof Szczerski (KS): It is obvious that the execution of this hybrid operation against Poland and other EU neighbors would not be possible without Minsk receiving support from both state and non-state partners. The process, amounting to a large-scale human trafficking scheme, started several months ago and involved many elements, including revoking readmission agreements with countries of origin, launching social media disinformation and advertising campaigns, relaxing visa requirements, modifying flight schedules, etc. Many countries understood that they had been manipulated and implemented steps to limit the new arrivals to Belarus by suspending flights to Minsk. For others, like smugglers and their accomplices, it is still a lucrative source of income. We call on all backers of Mr. Lukashenko’s policy to withdraw their support for his inhumane practices.

AT: How can Poland and Belarus work together to end the current crisis, while at the same time finding ways to prevent a similar situation from unfolding in the future?

KS: The most crucial thing to understand is that the current situation is not to be perceived in terms of a conflict, where there are two opposite sides. The crisis is the direct result of deliberate, unilateral tactics employed by the Belarussian regime who cynically instrumentalized foreign nationals for political purposes. It was Minsk’s premeditated decision to issue tourist visas and admit those people legally to the Belarussian territory, in which they are currently located. Poland has been entrusted with the protection of NATO and EU’s external borders and Warsaw is only fulfilling this duty to guarantee stability. Belarus should solve the problem in accordance with international law, that is by taking full responsibility for the people it has legally admitted to its territory.

AT: What role can the US and EU each play in helping to resolve the issue?

KS: Minsk should be made aware that the international community is not indifferent to the whole situation. The US and the EU should use the full potential of the diplomatic toolbox – starting with dialogue and finishing with additional sanctions, if necessary – to send a clear signal that the policy of deception and extortion pursued by Belarus with regard to launching these hybrid actions at the border will not stand. It is in the interest of the whole international community to prevent such abhorrent practices to become a new instrument in the hands of dictators around the world.

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