Belarus is mounting ‘hybrid attack’ on EU, Merkel complains to Putin
Belarus is mounting ‘hybrid attack’ on EU, Merkel complains to Putin
In this file photo, German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin as he arrives for the Libya summit in Berlin, Germany on January 19, 2020. — Reuters

BERLIN: German Chan­cellor Angela Merkel discussed the situation on the Poland-Belarus border with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the second time in as many days on Thursday, telling him Belarus was deploying defenceless people in a “hybrid attack”.

Merkel told Putin the situation on the border, where hundreds of migrants sit frozen in the no man’s land between the two countries, was caused by Belarus, her spokesperson said in a statement.

“The Chancellor stressed that the situation was caused by the Belarusian regime, which was using defenceless people in a hybrid attack on the European Union,” spokesperson Steffen Seibert said in a statement.

He added that the pair had also discussed the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Crisis risks military clash

Countries bordering Belarus on Thursday warned the migrant crisis on the European Union’s eastern borders could escalate into a military confrontation while Ukraine said it would deploy thousands more troops to reinforce its frontier.

Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia said Belarus posed serious threats to European security by deliberately escalating its “hybrid attack” using migrants to retaliate for EU sanctions.

“This increases the possibility of provocations and serious incidents that could also spill over into the military domain,” a joint statement by the countries’ defence ministers said.

The Belarus defence ministry earlier said that in response to a build-up of Polish military forces near the border it would be obliged it to take “appropriate response measures”, both independently and together with its strategic ally, Russia.

While not an EU member, Ukraine, wary of becoming another flashpoint, announced drills and the deployment of 8,500 additional troops and police officers to the country’s long northern border with Belarus. Migrants stranded inside Belarus threw rocks and branches at Polish border guards and used logs to try to break down a razor wire fence overnight in new attempts to force their way into the EU, the authorities in Warsaw said.

The EU says Minsk is encouraging thousands fleeing war-torn parts of the world to try to cross its borders and may impose new sanctions on Belarus and airlines ferrying the migrants as soon as Monday.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko threatened to retaliate, including by shutting down the transit of Russian natural gas via Belarus, although there was no immediate response from Russia, its ally and financial backer.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow will try to help Europe weather an energy crunch and is hoping German authorities will soon certify the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that will carry more Russian gas to Europe’s biggest economy.

Moscow reacted angrily in the past when Ukraine, another transit country, disrupted gas supplies to the West, but Lukashenko has pushed back against its wishes at times while accepting loans and subsidised energy.

Minsk said two Russian strategic bombers were patrolling Belarusian airspace for a second day in a show of support.

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