Putin says Russia has 'nothing to do' with border crisis

The Belarus-Poland border has been flooded with Kurdish migrants

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting between Russia and Belarus via video link in Crimea, on November 4, 2021. Reuters
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Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday denied claims that Moscow is helping to orchestrate a crisis that has left hundreds of migrants from the Middle East trapped on the border between Belarus and Poland.

Blaming western policies in the Middle East for the crisis, Mr Putin hit back at claims from Poland and others that Russia is working with Belarus to increase pressure on the EU frontier.

“I want everyone to know. We have nothing to do with it,” he told state television. “We should not forget where these crises associated with migrants came from … western countries themselves, including European countries.”

Although Belarus held joint drills with Russian paratroopers near the border and Russian bombers have conducted patrols over the country last week, Moscow's support for Minsk is often cautious.

Mr Putin urged European leaders to talk to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to resolve the crisis and said “as I understand it”, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was ready to do so.

The migrants, mainly Kurds, have been stuck for days on the border in near-freezing temperatures, setting up a tent camp and burning wood to keep warm.

Belarus says there are about 2,000 people in the camp, including pregnant women and children. Poland says there are between 3,000 and 4,000 migrants on the border, with more arriving every day.

Belarusian authorities said Saturday they were delivering aid, including tents and heaters as temperatures fall, a move that could make the camp a semi-permanent presence on the borders of the EU.

Although migrants have been trying to cross the border for months, hundreds made a concerted effort on Monday and were pushed back by Polish border guards.

Sporadic attempts to cross have continued, and Polish police said Saturday that the body of a young Syrian man had been found in a forest close to the border.

Police said the cause of death could not be immediately determined and that a group of around 100 migrants had attempted to cross the border during the night in the area.

The death brings to 11 the number of migrants found dead on both sides since the crisis began in the summer, according to aid groups.

European leaders have accused Mr Lukashenko, who has ruled the former Soviet state for about 30 years, of luring the migrants to send across the border in revenge for sanctions imposed over a bloody crackdown on his opponents.

The EU is expected next week to widen the penalties to include new sanctions for “human trafficking".

European Commission vice president Margaritis Schinas told French newspaper Le Figaro that the sanctions would be “approved and applied".

He said they would also be aimed at Belarusian state airline Belavia, which has been accused of ferrying groups of migrants from Turkey and elsewhere to Minsk.

Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya urged European leaders to reject talks with Lukashenko.

Tensions remain high at the border, where thousands of troops have been stationed on both sides.

Updated: November 14, 2021, 5:42 AM