America has warned Vladimir Putin will be making a ‘serious mistake’ if he invades Ukraine after the Russian president provoked the West by deploying troops in Belarus and sending bombers over the North Sea.
Vice President Kamala Harris said the ‘eyes of the world’ are on the Belarus border and the US is ‘looking at the tools it has’ after a day of rapid-fire developments led to fears of war breaking out on Europe’s eastern border.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused dictator Alexander Lukashenko of using migration as a political weapon against the EU as Vice President Harris condemned his ‘very troubling actions’ on Poland’s border.
Harris spoke about the situation at a press conference in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron – after Russia conducted bombing exercises with Belarusian forces and built up troops along its border with Ukraine – prompting the US to assert its ‘ironclad’ commitment to Ukrainian security.
‘On the issue of Belarus and what is happening at the border with Poland, we are very concerned about that and closely paying attention to it,’ she said. She also gave a warning to President Alexander Lukashenko’s government.
‘The Lukashenko regime, I believe is engaged in very troubling activity. It is something that I discussed with President Macron, and the eyes of the world and its leaders are watching what is happening there,’ she said.
Defiant apparatchiks in Minsk hit back, as Defence Minister Viktor Khrenin accused western nations of trying to ‘initiate conflict’ using ‘ultimatums, threats and blackmail’ while vowing to ‘respond harshly to any attacks’.
It comes after Russia and Belarus held snap paratrooper drills just 20 miles from a border crossing where thousands of migrants are gathered, saying it was to ‘test the readiness’ of their troops, at the same time as two Russian bombers flew close to the UK – with RAF Typhoons scrambled to escort them.
A ‘small’ detachment of British troops, thought to be from Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers, were also deployed to the Polish border to help beef up the defences, the Ministry of Defence confirmed.
Separately, the US also warned that Putin could be preparing for an attack on eastern Ukraine after he was spotted massing thousands of troops, tanks and artillery pieces near the border. Ukraine’s defence minister accused Russia of waging ‘hybrid warfare’ on Europe, saying Putin is ultimately responsible for the Polish border crisis.
- The EU said it is alarmed by Russian military activities close to Ukraine, is watching the situation closely and ‘looking at further steps’ along with the United States and Britain
- Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Russia is waging ‘hybrid warfare’ on Europe using migrants
- Kamala Harris said ‘eyes of the world’ are on situation at Belarus-Poland border and US is watching ‘closely’
- US and European delegations accused Minsk of endangering lives for political ends at UN Security Council
- Former UK defence minister Tobias Ellwood called Russia’s moves ‘deeply concerning’ and a ‘test of resolve’
- Turkey barred citizens from Iraq, Syrian and Yemen from flying to Belarus amid fears they will head to border
Fears are growing of an imminent conflict in eastern Europe as Russia and Belarus carry out snap military drills close to where a migrant crisis is playing out on Poland’s border, while Washington warns Putin is preparing to invade eastern Ukraine
Russia and Belarus said paratroopers from both countries had been involved in joint drills in Gozhsky today, located just 20 miles from the Polish border where migrants are trying to cross
The Belarusian defence ministry said the troops practiced capturing bridges, hunting down and destroying targets, and defeating enemy patrols during the drill to ‘test combat readiness’
The surprise training mission came as it was revealed British military engineers are now at the border to strengthen the defences, amid warnings from all sides that the situation risks spilling over into armed conflict
Poland has deployed some 15,000 troops to its eastern border where they have spent much of this week trying to hold back thousands of migrants that Lukashenko’s regime is accused of forcing into the region
Poland, along with the leaders of nearby Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, has been warning that the crisis has the potential to spill over into a full-blown conflict
The military drills are taking place just 20 miles from the Kuznica border crossing with Poland, where thousands of migrants are currently gathered trying to cross over
Poland has reported dozens of attempts to cross the border today, including a group of migrants who broke through the Belarusian side of the crossing and began trying to cross the Polish side of the fence
Lukashenko wants payback for EU sanctions and Putin enjoys mischief: Why Belarus and Russia are causing chaos in Europe
What is behind the crisis?
Belarus was rocked by months of massive protests following the August 2020 election that gave authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in office. The opposition and the West rejected the result as a sham.
Belarusian authorities responded to the demonstrations with a fierce crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.
The European Union and the U.S. reacted by imposing sanctions on Lukashenko’s government.
Those restrictions were toughened after an incident in May when a passenger jet flying from Greece to Lithuania was diverted by Belarus to Minsk, where authorities arrested dissident journalist Roman Pratasevich.
The EU called it air piracy and barred Belarusian carriers from its skies and cut imports of the country’s top commodities, including petroleum products and potash, an ingredient in fertilizer.
A furious Lukashenko shot back by saying he would no longer abide by an agreement to stem illegal migration, arguing that the EU sanctions deprived his government of funds needed to contain flows of migrants.
Planes carrying migrants from Iraq, Syria and other countries began arriving in Belarus, and they soon headed for the borders with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
Pavel Latushka, a member of the Belarusian opposition, claimed that state-controlled tourist agencies were involved in offering visa support to migrants and helping them drive to the border.
The EU accused Lukashenko of using the migrants as pawns in a ‘hybrid attack’ against the 27-nation bloc in retaliation for the sanctions. Lukashenko denies encouraging the flow of migrants and said the EU is violating migrants’ rights by denying them safe passage.
What has been the response by EU countries?
During the summer, Lithuania introduced a state of emergency to deal with an influx of migrants and strengthen its border with Belarus. It set up tent camps to accommodate the growing number of migrants.
In previous months, small groups of asylum-seekers tried to sneak into Lithuania, Poland and Latvia at night, using forest paths away from populated areas.
This week, much larger groups gathered openly at the Polish border, and some people used shovels and wire cutters to try to break through a razor-wire fence at Poland’s border.
Authorities in Warsaw estimated the crowds at about 3,000-4,000 and said they prevented hundreds of people from entering the country.
Poland deployed riot police and other forces to bolster the border guards. Eight deaths have been confirmed at the Belarus-Poland border,, and temperatures have fallen below freezing at night.
The EU has made a strong show of solidarity with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. EU officials are expected to discuss another round of sanctions against Belarus, and European Council President Charles Michel said for the first time that the bloc would consider the possibility of financing ‘physical infrastructure’ such as barriers or fences on the border.
What is Russia’s role?
Belarus has received strong support from its main ally, Russia, which has helped buttress Lukashenko’s government with loans and political support.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the migrants flows resulted from the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Western-backed Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa.
He challenged the EU to offer financial assistance to Belarus to deal with the influx.
At the same time, the Kremlin angrily rejected Poland’s claim that Russia bears responsibility for the crisis.
Usau said Russia could step in as a mediator in the hope of improving ties with Germany and other EU nations.
French ministers warned their Russian counterparts of ‘serious consequences’ if Ukraine is invaded and called on the Kremlin to re-open dialogue with Kiev.
But Kremin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed those allegations, saying that Russia ‘doesn’t threaten anyone’ while describing fears of an attack on Ukraine as a ‘hollow and unfounded attempt to incite tensions’.
Peskov also claimed that Russia needed to protect its security against ‘increasing provocations’ near its borders.
He pointed at the US naval deployment to the Black Sea and increasingly frequent US and NATO intelligence flights. ‘We take measures to ensure our security when our opponents take defiant action near our borders,’ Peskov said. ‘We can’t stay indifferent to that; we must be on our guard.’
Poland has moved 15,000 troops to its border to help manage the unfolding crisis, while Ukraine has deployed 8,500 soldiers to the eastern border region where it has been fighting a years-long war with Russian-backed separatist rebels.
Russia’s defence ministry said the unannounced drill involved paratroopers from both countries dropping at the Gozhsky range, just 20 miles from where thousands of migrants are gathered at the Polish border, where they practiced capturing bridges as well as hunting down and destroying enemy patrols.
Belarus said the drill was in response to the ‘build-up of military activity’ at the Polish border, where 15,000 troops have been stationed to hold back the migrants, while Russia said it was to test the ‘combat readiness’ of its troops.
At the same time, Polish defence minister Mariusz Błaszczak revealed that British military engineers have been deployed to help strengthen the border defences, amid warnings from all sides that the crisis risks spilling over into an armed conflict. The MoD confirmed a ‘small team’ has been sent to provide engineering support.
The troops are likely from the light cavalry squadron that the UK currently has stationed in Poland as part of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence, which includes soldiers from the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers.
Amidst the tensions, RAF Typhoons from Lossiemouth & Coningsby were also scrambled to escort two Russian nuclear-capable bombers which flew over the North Sea and towards the English Channel today. They were joined on the mission by a Voyager Tanker from RAF Brize Norton, the RAF said.
Meanwhile Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defence minister, warned his French counterparts that the military situation in Europe ‘continues to deteriorate’ while slamming NATO for ‘building up its military presence’ near Russia’s border.
Speaking after a meeting with French officials in Paris, Shoigu insisted that Russia is working to ‘increase predictability and reduce the risk of incidents’ in the border region.
Former British defence minister Tobias Elwood, who now chairs the Commons Defence Committee, said: ‘Russia and Belarus’s aggression in Eastern Europe is not mutually exclusive and should deeply concern the West.
‘It’s a test of our collective resolve. If we are not resolute in our support for Poland and Ukraine then authoritarianism wins and we invite further destabilising adventurism.’
NATO said on Friday it is looking out for any escalation in the situation on its members’ borders with Belarus, after Belarusian and Russian paratroopers staged joint drills near the Polish and Lithuanian borders.
‘We will remain vigilant against the risk of further escalation and provocation by Belarus at its borders with Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia, and will continue to monitor the implications for the security of the alliance,’ the North Atlantic Council, representing the alliance’s member states, said in a statement.
‘NATO allies call on Belarus to cease these actions, to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, and to abide by international law.’
American intelligence sources briefed their European counterparts of a possible Kremlin military operation in Ukraine’s east to annex territory similar to the 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula, Bloomberg reported.
The US has refused to share exactly what intel it has of an imminent attack, but the warning comes after satellite images revealed a build-up of tens of thousands of Russian troops, tanks and artillery pieces close to the border.
The EU accuses Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko of forcing migrants to make illegal crossings into Poland in a cynical attempt to destabilise the bloc using vulnerable people as his weapon.
A man holds a child in a migrants’ makeshift camp on the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region
A Belarusian service member fist bumps with children in a migrants’ makeshift camp on the Belarusian-Polish border
A group of migrants walks near a barbed wire fence while moving toward a makeshift camp on the Belarusian-Polish border
Migrants unload wood logs during the distribution of humanitarian aid in a makeshift camp on the Belarusian-Polish border
On Thursday, Lukashenko himself warned of the risk of a conflict and accused armed groups in the Donbas region of Ukraine of trying to ship weapons to the migrants on the Polish border in order to spark fighting.
‘They are Kurds, and the Kurds are militant,’ he said according to Polish newspaper Wyborcza. ‘When Poles beat them, cut them, torment them, etc., they become desperate. One rifle, one gun, and armed conflict is ready.’
Lukashenko has also threatened to cut off natural gas supplies running from Russia and through his country into Europe – though that threat was angrily slapped down by Moscow today.
Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said Lukashenko had not coordinated with Moscow before making the remark and added that Russian pledged to fulfil gas contracts are ‘beyond doubt’.
It came after Lukashenko spoke out at a meeting of government officials on Thursday, musing: ‘We are heating Europe and they are threatening us… What if we cut off their natural gas?
‘I would recommend the Polish and Lithuanian authorities to think before they speak up.’
Russia’s Yamal-Europe pipeline runs through Belarus and into Poland, representing about 20 per cent of the country’s total gas-carrying capacity into Europe.
The continent relies on natural gas for around a quarter of its energy needs, more than half of which is piped in from Russia – which sits on top of the world’s largest gas reserves.
Just weeks ago, European leaders were trying to negotiate with Russia to increase supplies as stockpiles of gas ran low due to surging demand as economies reopen post-Covid.
The EU accused Putin of throttling the flow of gas as a political bargaining tool to try and get a new gas pipeline – the multi-billion dollar Nord Stream 2 – opened. He denied the allegations.
Concerns about Russian troops on Ukraine’s border have been ongoing since at least April this year, when Putin moved around 100,000 soldiers, tanks and artillery pieces to the region without warning.
He later said the exercise was to test ‘military readiness’ and pulled some of the units back, but NATO warned that many of them had remained at the front even after the ‘exercise’ was over.
Drone footage taken by Belarus border guards shows part of a large migrant camp that has sprung up along the Polish border, as the EU accuses Belarus of forcing vulnerable people into harm’s way
Poland has been complaining that Belarus has been sending migrants to its borders for months, but the crisis dramatically escalated this week with the sudden arrival of thousands of migrants in the area
Washington’s warning comes as Putin masses his forces close to Ukrainian territory, with satellite images taken in the last few weeks showing large camps of tanks and artillery pieces in the region
Ukraine warns there are now some 90,000 Russian soldiers near its border, where it has been fighting a years-long insurgency in its eastern regions by Russian-backed separatists
Poland has moved some 15,000 troops to its border with Belarus to help contain a migrant crisis that the EU accuses Lukashenko of engineering, amid warnings that situation could also spill over into conflict
Polish troops have accused their Belarusian counterparts of inflaming tensions by firing blank rounds and pushing migrants through the border fence in an attempt to provoke a confrontation
Russia has been flying nuclear-capable bombers over Belarus – its close ally – in a show of strength amidst the crisis
Amid the tensions between Russia and Ukraine, Belarus is pressuring Europe over migrants and has threatened to cut off gas supplies to the continent by shutting the Yamal-Europe pipeline which runs through its territory (pictured)
Russia then held more military drills around the Crimean peninsula and Ukraine’s eastern border over the summer, with yet more troops moved to the region.
The drills were closely watched by western powers with tensions almost spilling over into confrontation, including an episode in which Russian warships fired warning shots at a British vessel.
More troop and tank movements spotted via satellite in recent weeks spooked Washington even further, and prompted this week’s warning to European leaders about a confrontation.
CIA Director Bill Burns even flew to Moscow and have a rare one-on-one with Putin.
There he shared the US’s ‘serious’ concerns over the military buildup, sources told CNN.
DailyMail.com reached out to the State Department for comment but was referred to comments made on Wednesday by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, when he echoed similar concerns in a press conference with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
‘We’re concerned by reports of unusual Russian military activity near Ukraine. We’re monitoring the region very closely, as we always do, we’ll continue to consult closely as well with allies and partners on this issue,’ Blinken told reporters.
‘And as we’ve made clear, any escalatory or aggressive actions would be of great concern to the United States. We continue to support de-escalation in the region and diplomatic resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.’
The report comes as fighting between Russian-backed groups and Ukrainian forces heats up. It began in 2014 after Russia illegally annexed the Crimean peninsula following a revolution that overthrew Ukraine’s former president who was widely seen as another mouthpiece of Putin’s.
Ukraine’s Joint Forces Operation, a militarized force created in 2018 to defend the country in the ongoing conflict in the Donbas region, accused Russia of violating the ceasefire agreement five times over a 24-hour period on Monday.
In a statement posted to Facebook the JFO accused Russia of ‘armed aggression,’ though the Kremlin has consistently denied involvement in the conflict.
Tensions in Europe have been inflamed by a gas shortage, with Russian company Gazprom, the continent’s top energy supplier, having decreased its daily outflow in October in order to meet the needs of Putin’s domestic replenishment campaign.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Putin of intentionally engineering the gas crisis and urged western Europe to act swiftly with punishment.
But Gazprom increased its output to Europe earlier this week after Russia’ stockpile was deemed full.
The Biden administration is reportedly warning European allies of the possibility of an imminent attack by Russia on Ukraine, though Russia denied the accusations
Belarusian troops stand guard while id workers had out food on the Belarusian side of the border on Friday
Migrants unload logs during the distribution of humanitarian aid in a makeshift camp on the Belarusian-Polish border
Belarus denies engineering the crisis and has warned that armed groups in Ukraine are trying to give weapons to the migrants to spark a conflict (pictured, Belarusian troops marshal thousands of migrants near the border)
Migrants gather for getting humanitarian aid spread by Belarusian militaries at the camp at the Belarus-Polish border on November 11. Belarus’s strongman dictator threatened to choke off Europe’s gas supply from Russia if the west follows through on its promise of sanctions over the growing refugee crisis in the region
Russia has also been accused of helping engineer the crisis, which the West has called a ‘hybrid attack’
But the burgeoning refugee crisis on the border between Poland and Russia’s neighbor Belarus is threatening to further complicate the situation, which could grow more dire going into winter.
Much of Russia’s oil supply to Europe runs through Belarus and Poland.
Over the last week western democracies have 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.
Devastating scenes have emerged from the region of desperate migrants getting brutal treatment from soldiers on both sides. Some even froze to death in the harsh Eastern European climate this time of year.
In response to threats of expanded sanctions, Lukashenko threatened to shut down the oil supply coming in from Russia to the rest of Europe.
‘I would recommend the leadership of Poland, Lithuanians and other empty-headed people to think before speaking,’ he said.
Among the countries vowing sanctions over the conflict are NATO and EU member states, as well as the US.
Russia has also been accused of escalating the crisis, and the EU is reportedly in talks to target national airline Aeroflot as part of a new sanctions package.
The Kremlin said on Thursday that Russia had nothing to do with the migrant crisis on the Belarus-Poland border and rejected the suggestion as ‘crazy.’
It instead blamed the EU itself, claiming the international body was trying to ‘strangle’ Belarus.
However, two supersonic Tu-22M3 nuclear bombers were seen performing ‘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.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a joint news conference with his Belarusian counterpart Vladimir Makei that he hoped responsible Europeans would ‘not allow themselves to be drawn into a spiral that is fairly dangerous’.
Lukashenko’s ‘weaponised migrants’ cheer as they smash through Polish border fence: Belarus airline STOPS flying more from Turkey in bid to halt build-up of refugees as Putin vows Europe’s gas will NOT be cut off
Alexander Lukashenko’s ‘weaponised migrants’ cheered today as they smashed through a Polish border fence – only to be met by another barrier and more guards.
Video showed around a hundred refugees pouring across a highway and reaching a grassy knoll where they cheered defiantly at Polish riot police and troops stationed along a barbed wire fence.
Thousands of desperate migrants from the Middle East and North Africa have been ferried to the Belarus-Poland border this week by Lukashenko’s security forces, prompting Poland to deploy 15,000 troops along the line.
Video showed around a hundred refugees pouring across a highway at the border and reaching a grassy knoll where they cheered defiantly at Polish riot police and troops stationed along a barbed wire fence
A toddler is carried by its mother, swaddled in blankets to protect her from the harsh Belarusian November chill at the border
A Belarusian military doctor provides medical care to a migrant at the camp at the Belarus-Polish border in the Grodno region
The EU accuses Lukashenko of luring the migrants to Belarus and the country’s Belavia airline has been forced to deny it is involved in trafficking the refugees as part of the ‘hybrid war.’
Belavia said citizens of Iraq, Syria and Yemen, would be blocked from flights as of Friday ‘in accordance with the decision of competent authorities in Turkey.
Amid the chaos on Europe’s doorstep, the White House last night warned Brussels to brace for a Russian invasion of neighbouring Ukraine.
The CIA briefed European officials about a possible Russian assault to capture territory in eastern Ukraine similar to the 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula.
As military hardware massed on Ukraine’s eastern front, the Kremlin today announced it was sending paratroopers to the Belarus-Poland frontier for snap drills just 30 miles from where the migrants are camped.
‘A unit of Russian paratroopers will practise a landing in an unknown territory in the Hrodna region of Belarus on November 12 as part of drills to inspect combat readiness of the paratrooper forces,’ the Russian defence ministry said.
Russian nuclear bombers were also flying over Belarus for a third day running as Putin remained firmly behind Lukashenko.
Kremlin-backed tyrant Lukashenko remains defiant in the face of increased sanctions from Brussels, threatening on Thursday to cut off Russian gas supplies to Europe from a major pipeline which runs through Belarus.
But Vladimir Putin doused that threat on Friday as Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov assured reporters that ‘the reliability of Russia as a [gas] supplier under current and future contracts is beyond doubt.’
Fears that Russia might invade Ukraine have been sparked by the build-up of tens of thousands of troops, tanks and artillery pieces close to the border, with satellite images revealing large camps of vehicles at Yelnya, Bryansk and Kursk.
Ukraine – which has been fighting a proxy-war against Russian-backed separatists in its eastern regions for years – has moved 8,500 more troops to the border in response.
A group of migrants were seen violently clashing with one and other as food supplies were handed out by an aid organisation on Thursday
Kremlin-backed tyrant Lukashenko (pictured at the presidential palace in Minsk on Thursday) remains defiant in the face of increased sanctions from Brussels, threatening on Thursday to cut off Russian gas supplies to Europe from a major pipeline which runs through Belarus
Meanwhile, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have also been warning of the risk of conflict between Belarus – a close ally of Moscow – and Poland amid a migrant crisis on their shared border.
On Thursday, Lukashenko warned of the risk of a conflict and accused armed groups in the Donbas region of Ukraine of trying to ship weapons to the migrants on the Polish border in order to spark fighting.
‘They are Kurds, and the Kurds are militant,’ he said according to Polish newspaper Wyborcza. ‘When Poles beat them, cut them, torment them, etc., they become desperate. One rifle, one gun, and armed conflict is ready.’
European countries and the US condemned Belarus Thursday following an emergency meeting at the UN Security Council.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has urged the EU to open diplomatic talks with Belarus to resolve the situation over some 4,000 migrants camped on the Polish border with Belarus in freezing temperatures.
Poland is refusing to allow the migrants to cross, accusing Minsk of luring them to Belarus to send across the border in revenge for sanctions.
After an emergency meeting at the UN Security Council on the crisis the US and European delegations condemned ‘the orchestrated instrumentalization of human beings whose lives and wellbeing have been put in danger for political purposes by Belarus.’
Minsk is aiming at ‘destabilizing neighboring countries and the European Union’s external border and diverting attention away from its own increasing human rights violations,’ they said in a joint statement.
The statement made no mention of Belarus ally Russia, which before the meeting rejected western allegations that it was working in conjunction with Minsk to send the migrants over the EU’s eastern border into Poland.
And in his second phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in as many days, Putin ‘spoke in favour of restoring contacts between EU states and Belarus in order to resolve this problem,’ the Kremlin said in a statement.
The EU has so far refused any direct contacts with Belarus’s strongman Alexander Lukashenko, who on Thursday warned that any new sanctions could see Minsk cut off natural gas transit to Europe.
The bloc severed contacts with Lukashenko and imposed sanctions after a heavy crackdown on the opposition following a disputed presidential election last year.
The EU is expected to decide next week to impose new sanctions on Belarus for human trafficking because of the migrant crisis.