President Joe Biden has condemned Belarus’ authoritarian regime for allegedly using migrants as a weapon against the European Union, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said outside the White House on Wednesday.
The European official spoke with reporters after a wide-ranging meeting with Biden and announced that existing sanctions against the Eastern European nation will be stepped up.
Among the topics they discussed was Western governments’ accusation that Belarusian strongman Lukashenko is luring migrants to his country and sending them to cross into Poland in retaliation for sanctions.
She said of Biden, ‘We absolutely share the opinion that this is a hybrid attack of an authoritarian regime to try and de-stabilize Democratic neighbors.’
‘This will not succeed. We will protect our democracies,’ von der Leyen said.
Part of their agreement on the matter was to reach out to the countries the refugees are coming from to caution them ‘to not fall into the trap of the Lukashenko regime.’
She also called for international officials to be allowed ‘access’ to the migrants, who von der Leyen said were in a ‘very, very difficult situation.’
‘Very rapidly at the beginning of next week there will be a widening of the sanctions against Belarus,’ she said on Twitter after the meeting.
Von der Leyen told reporters after her meeting with Biden that they ‘share the opinion that this is a hybrid attack of an authoritarian regime to try and de-stabilize Democratic neighbors’
Von der Leyen described her meeting at the White House as ‘productive’
She said the situation at the EU-Belarus border was an ‘attack’ on the international body of countries
Asked if the United States would join in on the penalties, she simply said ‘we discussed that.’
The EU has banned state-owned airline Belavia from EU airspace and EU airports after Minsk forced a Ryanair flight to land to arrest a Belarus opposition journalist.
Now, direct sanctions on the airline would prevent it from being able to lease aircraft from Irish, Romanian and Danish companies.
‘We will look into the possibility of sanctioning those airlines who facilitate human trafficking towards Minsk and then the EU-Belarus border,’ von der Leyen said to reporters.
She said what was occurring on the Poland-Belarus border was an ‘attack’ rather than a ‘migration crisis.’
A White House spokesperson said, ‘President Biden will reaffirm his support for the European Union as a fundamental partner for the United States.’
But one of the president’s most vocal critics, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, called Biden out for his relative silence on the crisis brewing on the US southern border.
It is absurd that Biden can express concern about a border halfway across the world, while he turns a blind eye to the illegal migration crisis in our own backyard,’ DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw told DailyMail.com.
The new round of sanctions is set to target Belarusian officials that the EU says have organized the migrant arrivals in revenge for sanctions on Minsk over human rights abuses.
On Wednesday, in a crucial step, the EU’s 27 ambassadors are set to formally agree that the swelling numbers of migrants along Belarus’ border with Poland amount to “hybrid warfare” and can serve as a legal basis on which to build sanctions.
But Lukashenko appears to have a powerful ally on his side in the form of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A picture taken on November 10, 2021 shows Poland’s servicemen behind a barbed wire fence on the Belarusian-Polish border as they watch migrants camping on the Belarusian side in the Grodno region
Migrants are seen at a tent camp on the Belarusian-Polish border. According to the Polish Border Guard, several thousand migrants have been approaching the Polish border since November 8 (pictured November 10)
Putin sent nuclear bombers over the skies of Belarus as migrants on the Polish border try to flee towards Britain and escape alleged beatings from Lukashenko’s soldiers.
Two supersonic Tu-22M3 nuclear bombers performed ‘tasks of combat alert for air defense’ in support of the Belarus leader, the Russian defense ministry said in response to the rising tensions on the border.
Footage has shown Belarusian soldiers firing shots to intimidate terrified women and children desperately trying to escape and head towards Britain for safety, one of the estimated 2,000 migrants said.
Speaking amid the border crisis, the unnamed male said even though the UK is no longer in the EU, Britain was the real target for half of those now trying to get into the European Union.
‘Half of these people are going to UK,’ the man said in clear English during an interview with Russian state-run news outlet RIA Novosti.
‘They are not staying in Germany, nor Poland,’ he insisted. ‘We’ve got nobody, not even one person stay in Poland.’
Meanwhile, a man who claims he was beaten by Belarusian border guards was named as Youssef Atallah, a migrant from Syria.
A portrait photograph was released of Mr Atallah showing heavy bruising around his eyes and a broken nose. Both his eyes had also hemorrhaged.
The West has accused Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko of ‘weaponizing’ migrants from Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East by enabling them to fly to his country before seeking to break into the EU.
Pictured: Two long-range Tu-22M3 bombers of the Russian Aerospace Forces filmed reportedly entering the airspace of Belarus north of Gomel on November 10, 2021
The Russian defence ministry said the mission involving two giant supersonic strategic warplanes (pictured) were ‘performing tasks of combat alert for air defence in the Unified Regional Air Defense System of the Union State (of Russia and Belarus’
A man at Poland’s border with Belarus (pictured in a video grab) has said in an interview that many migrants on the Polish border hope to reach Britain after passing through the EU
Pictured: Youssef Atallah, a migrant from Syria who claims he was beaten by Belarusian border guards at the Polish border. A portrait photograph was released of Mr Atallah showing heavy bruising around his haemorrhaged eyes and broken nose
Thousands of migrants are now camped along the Polish border, with the EU saying they are being forced to attempt illegal crossings by Lukashenko’s regime as part of a ‘hybrid attack’
Pictured: Belarusian Red Cross employees hand out humanitarian aid to migrants in a tent camp on the Belarusian-Polish border
The unnamed man at the border told RIA Novosti the migrants were expecting the Red Cross to deliver supplies, including water and food, ‘especially for the kids.’
‘The kids need milk, the babies, and we’ve got no water to make milk for them. That’s good news about them bringing water and food,’ he said.
Photographs later showed workers from Belarusian Red Cross distributing supplies to a crowd of migrants from a white van.
He went on to say that he understood that officials from Germany would take them across the border ‘splitting them into other countries like France, Germany, Holland,’ but said that half of the migrants at the border wanted to make it to the UK.
This week the focus has been on the border with Poland, but the EU is also concerned about landlocked Belarus frontiers with Latvia and Lithuania.
Earlier, a video showed Belarusian troops firing gunshots close to a terrified group of migrants at the Polish border, hours before the desperate refugees made fresh attempts to break through barbed wire fences and into the EU.
Video captured by Polish guards showed people, including women and children, lined up along a border fence on the Belarusian side before the sound of a soldier cocking and firing his rifle is heard.
Amid screams from the migrants, two more soldiers can be seen kicking and hitting them before one drops to his knee and raises his gun at them. A Polish soldier can be heard calling to his squad-mate: ‘Come, we have to step back!’
Poland released the footage to rubbish claims by Belarus that it was Polish soldiers who had fired the shots, as Minsk tries to discredit its rivals in Warsaw as part of a ‘hybrid attack’ on the EU using migrants as a weapon.
Amid a rush of migrant crossings overnight Belarus released footage of what it claimed was four Kurdish migrants beaten bloody by guards – though video seen by MailOnline appears fake and Poland has denounced it as ‘propaganda’.
Polish border guards captured the moment Belarusian troops at the border fired shots near a group of terrified migrants, then kicked and pointed their weapons at them
Poland says it has an ‘obligation’ as an EU member to protect the bloc’s border from ‘attacks’ by Belarus, using migrants as a weapon (pictured, Polish border guards)
Belarus released footage of what it claimed were refugees beaten bloody by border guards, but the footage appears to be fake and Poland has denounced it as ‘propaganda’
In it, the four men can be seen in a campsite – one lying in a tent, another sitting by a campfire, a third crouching in a tent doorway, and a fourth squatting on the floor.
All four men are hiding their faces – possibly to conceal their identities – with injuries only visible on three of them, some of which seemed to be made with prosthetics.
The injuries are also being displayed openly to the camera, with seemingly no serious attempt having been made to bandage them.
There are now thousands of desperate people camped out along the Polish border, with the EU saying they were lured to Belarus on false promises of passage to Europe then marched to the border and forced to make illegal crossings.
Poland said more than 250 people attempted the crossing between Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, with dozens making it. Around 50 were found and arrested near the town of Białowieża early today, with more being sought.
‘It was not a calm night. Indeed, there were many attempts to breach the Polish border,’ Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak told broadcaster PR1.
Polish private radio RMF said around 200 people had tried to breach the border on Tuesday afternoon, and a second group of around 60 had tried after midnight.
Blaszczak said all those who tried to cross were detained, and that the force of Polish soldiers stationed at the border had been strengthened to 15,000 from 12,000.
Three EU diplomats told Reuters on late on Tuesday that the bloc was close imposing more sanctions on Belarus over the escalating crisis, targeting around 30 individuals and entities including the Belarusian foreign minister.
Armed soldiers stand guard close to Poland’s border with Belarus, with Warsaw saying there are now 15,000 troops and guards stationed there
Germany’s acting Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Twitter on Wednesday the images from the Belarusian border were ‘horrific’.
‘Mr. Lukashenko …unscrupulously exploits people seeking refuge as hostages for his cynical power play… But the European Union cannot be blackmailed.’ he said.
Maas said the EU would not leave anyone in need alone.
Another video released on Wednesday reportedly showed Russian Tu-22M3 nuclear bombers patrolling the skies over Belarus amid rising tension with the West.
The Russian defense ministry said the mission involving two giant supersonic strategic warplanes were ‘performing tasks of combat alert for air defense in the Unified Regional Air Defense System of the Union State (of Russia and Belarus’.
The bombers ‘performed patrols in the airspace of the Republic of Belarus. During the flight of the aircraft, the issues of interaction with ground control points of the armed forces of Russia and Belarus were worked out’.
This came as Russia lambasted the Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki for blaming Vladimir Putin for the border crisis with migrants in Belarus.
‘We consider absolutely irresponsible and unacceptable the Polish prime minister’s words that Russia is responsible for this situation,’ said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. This is an absolutely irresponsible and unacceptable statement.’
Migrants are seen camping out as Belarusian soldiers walk past in this image taken from the Polish side of the border
Poland said more than 250 people attempted to cross the border between Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, with 50 arrested on the Polish side
The EU accuses Belarus of luring vulnerable migrants to the country with false promises of a passage to Europe, before marching them to the border and forcing them to cross
Belarus is already under EU sanctions, levied after Lukashenko hijacked a Ryanair flight over the bloc’s airspace to arrest a journalist who criticized his regime.
The EU has also provided sanctuary to Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the exiled Belarusian opposition leader who is widely thought to have beaten Lukashenko in a 2020 ballot that analysts believe was rigged, and voiced support for pro-democracy protesters.
The bloc says Lukashenko is now taking revenge by manufacturing a migrant crisis on its eastern border to try and ‘destabilize’ the alliance.
European leaders say migrants are being flown to Belarus from across the Middle East, Africa and Asia and then forced to try and cross the border.
The crisis has been simmering since spring, when what-was one of the quietest migrant routes into Europe suddenly became one of its busiest, but has escalated this week with the sudden arrival of around 1,000 people at the border on Monday.
There are now thought to be around 2,000 people camped out at the border, who cannot cross into Poland and are blocked from going backwards into Belarus.
They have little food or water and are living out of tents in freezing conditions, with overnight temperatures frequently dropping below zero.
Lukashenko, with the backing of Moscow, has denied orchestrating the migrant crossings – claiming they are legitimate asylum seekers who should be given access.
He described the EU as ‘b*****ds’ on Tuesday, while accusing Poland of ‘conducting a war’ by moving troops close to the border which he warned could lead to conflict.
‘This is either a training exercise or it’s blackmail,’ he said, before vowing: ‘We will calmly stand up to this.’
There are now thousands of migrants camped out along the Polish border, burning fires to keep warn in freezing conditions with little food or water
Bright lights illuminate the Polish side of the border as migrants camp out on the Belarusian side, burning fires in order to keep warm
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki (centre right) has vowed to continue blocking the migrants, saying Poland has an ‘obligation’ as an EU member state to defend the border
Lukashenko issued the fiery statement following a phone call with Putin, during which the pair discussed the crisis.
Belarusian state news agency Belta reported the phone call, saying the two leaders had discussed Polish troop movements at the border and were concerned.
‘A special place in the conversation was taken by the discussion of the situation on the Belarusian-Polish border, as well as the tough actions of the Polish side in relation to civilians,’ Belta said.
‘At the same time, it was emphasized, the fact of regular Polish troops gathering on the border was of particular concern. The heads of state discussed in detail the disturbing facts and trends taking place on the Belarusian-Polish borders.’
Following the call, Putin convened a meeting of Russia’s security council to discuss what the Kremlin called ‘state border policy’.
Belta also said Belarus’s foreign minister Vladimir Makei was travelling to Moscow to discuss the crisis with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.
Lavrov has previously thrown his weight behind Belarus on the issue, saying the EU should be paying Lukashenko to take the migrants back.
Lukashenko denies he is waging ‘hybrid warfare’ and has been backed by close ally Vladimir Putin (right), with the two leaders sharing a phone-call about the crisis on Tuesday
Lithuania, Latvia and Poland – the three EU countries which border Belarus – have all complained of migrants being forced to their borders in recent months, but the largest numbers have arrived at Poland’s doorstep near the Kuznica crossing point (above)
Lithuania has also begun increasing its border defences in anticipation of more migrants being forced across from neighbouring Belarus
Lithuanian troops are pictured at the border guard headquarters in Kapciamiestis, near the border with Belarus, in anticipation of more migrant crossings
Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonite (right) speaks with Commander of Lithuanian state border guard service Rustamas Liubajevas (left), at border guard headquarters