To help understand what’s going on on the Polish-Belarusian border, The Daily Signal spoke with Alexis Mrachek, associate researcher specializing in Russia and Eurasia at the Heritage Foundation.
The Daily Signal: We are receiving reports of thousands of migrants attempting to enter Poland illegally from Belarus, apparently for several months now. Who are these illegal immigrants and where do they come from?
Alexis Mrachek: These illegal immigrants are mostly young men, women and children from war-torn countries in the Middle East and Africa, who are drawn to Belarus’s false promise that they can start a new life in it. European Union. Some of the countries they are from are Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Libya and Syria.
The daily signal: a report stated that this border crisis was orchestrated by Aleksandr Lukashenka, autocratic dictator, to “cause problems for the European Union”. What is the probability that it is a crisis fabricated by Lukashenka, and what would be its motive?
Mrachek: It is extremely likely that this is a crisis fabricated by Lukashenka himself. Since October 2020, the European Union has imposed sanctions on Belarus for conducting its presidential election fraudulently, for violently cracking down on peaceful protesters, for forcing a landing of a Ryanair flight and for other offenses . These sanctions have seriously damaged Belarusian economy, as Belarus is one of the poorest countries in Europe.
Consequently, Lukashenka wishes to retaliate against the EU, and the militarization of immigration is obviously his chosen mode of action.
The Daily Signal: Lukashenka has a relative, but not always friendly,Partnership with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Is there a possibility that Russia is also at the origin of this crisis?
Mrachek: There is no doubt that Russia is behind this crisis. Belarus and Russia have been close for decades – so close, in fact, that they signed a State of the Union agreement in the late 1990s. This agreement defines a single currency, flag and economy for both nations.
Recently, Belarus and Russia deepened this integration by creating common policies on taxation, banking and energy, to name a few, as well as a common military doctrine. The two countries are not yet officially united, but this possibility should not be ruled out for the future.
Lukashenka and Putin also have a close relationship personally, so naturally, Putin supports Lukashenka in his creation of this migrant crisis.
The daily signal: Violence broke out at the border on Tuesday when migrants on the Belarusian side threw stones at Polish border guards, who retaliated using water cannons and tear gas. Is it likely that the tensions escalate into increased violence?
Mrachek: It is quite likely that the tensions escalate into increased violence, but it is more likely that this was the strongest escalation. Belarusian authorities are now transporting migrants away from the Polish border and into warehouses for shelter.
But even if the number of migrants at the border declines, tensions will remain high for some time.
The Daily Signal: Poland has been firm on secure its borders. How will Polish political leaders continue to respond to this border crisis? Is there a political will to resist illegal immigrants? Or are there pro-asylum factions that wish to receive them, and if so, what political influence do they have?
Mrachek: Given that Polish soldiers have already detained at least 100 migrants, it appears that Poland’s border security will remain firm in resisting illegal immigrants. However, it is difficult to predict. On November 17, Poland warned that the crisis could last for months or even years.
Potentially, over time, Poland will receive a few immigrants, but in the meantime the country can be expected to resist them.
The Daily Signal: What US interests are at stake in this crisis, and how should the Biden administration respond?
Mrachek: The American interests at stake in this crisis relate specifically to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Poland, along with Lithuania and Latvia (which are also experiencing a migration crisis caused by Belarus), are all members of NATO. As part of the alliance, the United States has a duty to help protect its allies in the midst of a security crisis.
The Biden administration is expected to respond by imposing additional sanctions on Belarus, as the EU recently did, and staying in close contact with its NATO allies to see how the United States can help further.
This piece originally appeared in The daily signal