Nov. 9 (UPI) — A growing standoff at the border between Poland and Belarus is expected to become more tense as military forces in both nations prepared Tuesday for a large group of refugees to try and cross the border.
The group of migrants were camped overnight Monday near the border, where forces are prepared to repel them if they attempt to cross illegally into Poland.
Poland mobilized more military personnel to assist in controlling the line.
The migrants are mostly from the Middle East and Africa who are hoping to relocate to Europe, partly due to a new migration route through Poland and to a lesser extent Lithuania and Latvia, the three nations that border Belarus to the west.
The military expansion is the latest sign of a fast burgeoning border conflict between the two countries that’s been encouraged by Belarus’ authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko, who has advised the refugees to cross into Poland and the European Union — illegally, if necessary.
Belarus, a former Soviet republic that became a breakaway country in 1990, is not a member of the EU.
“Belarusian services are moving large groups of migrants towards the Polish border,” Michal Tokarczyk, spokesman for the general headquarters of the Polish Border Guard, told CNN. “We are waiting for their further move and we are prepared for any scenario.”
Lukashenko’s gambit to route migrants into the EU is a bid to pressure the EU in response to economic sanctions since his election last year was challenged by mass protests and demonstrations.
“Sealing the Polish border is our national interest,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki tweeted Tuesday. “But today the stability and security of the entire EU are at stake.
“This hybrid attack of Lukashenko’s regime is aimed at all of us. We will not be intimidated and will defend peace in Europe with our partners from NATO and EU.”
The EU says that Lukashenko has been luring the migrants from the Middle East to his country and then transporting them to the border to cross into Poland and Lithuania.
His regime has called the charges “unfounded and unsubstantiated” and says Poland is to blame. The Belarusian State Border Committee accused Warsaw of using “force and weapons” against refugees and denying media access to the area.
“[The crisis is] made by Poland in order to prevent filming by casual witnesses and the disclosure of facts proving that the Polish military is using force and weapons against refugees,” the committee said, according to Russia’s state-run TASS news agency.
“All those actions by Poland are aimed at hiding information about what is really happening on the Polish-Belarusian border from the public.”
The Lithuanian government on Tuesday asked lawmakers to declare a state of emergency along its portion of the border with Belarus.