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Belarus migrant crisis: EU Council chief visits Poland

November 10, 2021

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and the EU's Charles Michel discussed new measures against Belarus and other actors involved in the migrant standoff during Michel's visit to Warsaw.

Charles Michel waves to reporters as he arrives to a summit in Slovenia
The EU Council chief is likely to push Morawiecki to accept EU's helpImage: Darko Bandic/AP/picture alliance

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki hosted European Council President Charles Michel in Warsaw on Wednesday, as the bloc scrambles to respond to the migrant crisis on its eastern border with Belarus.

Michel's visit is seen as a show of solidarity with Poland. After a large group of migrants approached the border from Belarus and attempted to force their way in, the EU has closed ranks behind Warsaw and is decrying the attempted breach as a "hybrid attack" organized by the regime of the Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Donald Tusk, the former President of the European Council, former prime minister of Poland and currently the president of the European People's Party (EPP) — the largest transnational bloc in the European Parliament — made an urgent plea for "full solidarity with Poland and Lithuania in the face of the growing crisis on the border with Belarus" on Wednesday.

In a letter addressed "To all European leaders," which he also published on Twitter, Tusk said that Lukashenko was trying to destabilize "the whole of the Union," adding, "The fundamental safety and security of our community are at stake." He said inaction would, "only embolden provocateurs and their protectors" and that he was counting on the "wisdom and determination" of EU leaders.


What did Michel and Morawiecki say in Warsaw?

European Council chief Michel slammed Lukashenko's "authoritarian regime" for "cynically" pushing migrants into an unacceptable situation.

"It must stop, this hybrid attack against the EU — not just against Poland but also against the EU," Michel said at the joint press conference with Morawiecki in Warsaw. 

In turn, Morawiecki said Poland was considering further steps of the "escalatory ladder" as the current sanctions against the Belarusian regime "are apparently not working." 

"We want to implement extra sanctions, for example extra sanctions concerning airlines, including Belarusian airlines, but not only that," Morawiecki said.

"We are more and more determined to implement economic sanctions," he added.

The two leaders hinted that the next round of sanctions might go beyond targeting just officials in the Lukashenko regime, but did not provide details.

Michel also pointed to migrants' countries of origin, saying it was important to explain "what are the consequences" of launching a hybrid attack against the EU.

What the EU wants from Poland

Brussels has been pressuring Morawiecki to accept the EU assistance in managing the crisis. With Poland's approval, the EU could deploy members of its border protection agency, Frontex, and its police force, Europol. Michel has also called for clarity on financing "physical infrastructure" for the EU's outside borders.

Talking to DW on Wednesday, the head of the center-right EPP bloc in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber, also called on Poland to be transparent about its response, and "accept assistance by the European forces," including Frontex.

In Warsaw, Michel said he and Morawiecki discussed different measures that could be taken "within the framework of EU unity."

"Based on an opinion of the legal service of the Council, it is legally possible ... to finance infrastructure," he said.

He indicated that Morawiecki was still not willing to invite Frontex to Poland's borders.

"It is plain to the prime minister that Frontex is available," he said, adding that it would be possible "to keep the channel of dialogue open on this topic."

The effect of the Warsaw-Brussels row

Poland has repeatedly insisted that it has enough resources to handle the influx.

Analysts believe that the government is hesitant to ask for help because of the existing clash with Brussels over the rule of law in Poland. The EU is angry at Poland's conservative government over its prolonged and severe crackdown on the country's judiciary and its refusal to comply with the ruling of the European Court of Justice. Less than three weeks ago, Morawiecki said that withholding EU funds from Poland would start "the third world war" which was met with a harsh rebuke in Brussels.

DW's Marina Strauss reports from Kuznica

Even with the conflict overshadowed by the migrant standoff, Poland is eager to show that it does not need outside help. This could change if the situation keeps escalating, Joanna Hosa from the European Council on Foreign Relations, an international think tank, told DW.

"The EU would have to convince Poland that this won't be linked to the rule-of-law fight," Hosa said. "If Poland is to cooperate with the EU on this, these two issues have to be disassociated as much as possible."

Kremlin turns up the heat

Also, Morawiecki is more likely to accept the EU's help as Russia grows ever more vocal in support of Belarus.

On Wednesday, Russia slammed Poland's efforts to close parts of its borders as an attempt to "strangle" Belarus, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saying the current Belarus-Polish standoff was reminiscent of 1939.

That was the year when both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland.

The Kremlin also called Poland's accusations against Putin "absolutely irresponsible and unacceptable." Both Russia and Belarus claim that Poland and the EU are causing the crisis by refusing the help asylum-seekers.

Also on Wednesday, the Russian military announced that two of its strategic bombers had flown through Belarusian airspace as part of a test of its neighbor's air defenses.

dj/rt (AFP, dpa, Interfax)