MOSCOW Migrant Crisis: Russia took the rare step on Wednesday to deploy two strategic nuclear-ready bombers to patrol Belarusian airspace to support Belarus’s ally at a time when it is in a migration confrontation with the European Union.
Moscow’s decision to lift the stakes came as the 27-nation bloc on Wednesday considered sanctions to punish Minsk for the so-called artificially caused crisis, which Belarus denies.
Migrants trapped in Belarus tried several times to reach Poland overnight, Warsaw announced Wednesday, announcing that it had strengthened the border with additional guards.
United Nations Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet urged states to reduce and resolve the “unbearable” crisis.
“These hundreds of men, women and children should not be forced to spend another night in frosty weather without adequate shelter, food, water and medical care,” she said.
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The Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombers that Russia sent to fly over Belarus can carry nuclear missiles, including hypersonic missiles designed to bypass sophisticated Western air defences.
Russia blamed the EU for the border crisis and accused it of failing to maintain its own humanitarian values and “strangle” Belarus with plans to close part of the border.
It was also stated that it was unacceptable for the EU to impose sanctions on Belarus for the crisis.
In addition, the Kremlin said Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s proposal that Moscow had a role in the influx of migrants into the EU was irresponsible, and President Vladimir Putin told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the EU should discuss the crisis directly with Minsk.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he hoped that responsible Europeans would not “be dragged into a rather dangerous spiral” after talks with his Belarusian counterpart.
The bloc’s 27 ambassadors will agree on Wednesday that the growing number of migrants flying to Belarus to reach the EU border is a “hybrid war” by President Alexander Lukashenko, a legal basis for further sanctions.
“Mr Lukashenko… is unscrupulously exploiting people seeking refuge as hostages in his cynical power play,” Germany’s acting Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Twitter.
He described the images of the Belarusian border, where people with little food and shelter are trapped in icy conditions, as “terrible” but said that the EU could not be blackmailed.
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The EU accuses Belarus of encouraging migrants — from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa — to cross the border illegally to take revenge on previous sanctions against Minsk for human rights violations.
Lukashenko has refused to use migrants as weapons.
Merkel, from Germany, asked Putin to press Belarus on the border situation, a German government spokesman said.
This week, thousands of people have joined forces at the border, where improvised barbed wire fences and Polish soldiers repeatedly blocked their entrance.
Some of the migrants have used logs, shovels and other devices to breakthrough.
On Tuesday, the Polish border guard service reported 599 illegal border crossing attempts, with 9 people arrested and 48 returned.
Blaszczak said that Polish soldiers stationed at the border had been strengthened from 12,000 to 15,000.