BRUSSELS: European Union ministers are holding emergency talks on Wednesday in response to allegations that Belarus is deliberately sending migrants to Lithuania as part of a “hybrid warfare” campaign to destabilize the Baltic EU member country.
The ministers are holding a videoconference in a so-called “integrated political crisis response” format. Such meetings are usually called to organize a response to natural disasters or terror attacks. Foreign policy, border, asylum and law enforcement officials are taking part.
Movements of people across the border have spiked dramatically since the EU imposed sanctions on Belarus officials. The measures were imposed after President Alexander Lukashenko ordered a crackdown on opponents and protestors after claiming victory in a vote last year that the West denounced as rigged. His main election challenger fled to Lithuania.
The aim of Wednesday’s meeting “is to determine concrete measures and forms of assistance to the affected states in managing and containing illegal crossings at the border with Belarus, also from the aspect of security at this section of the external EU border,” the Slovenian EU presidency said.
The videoconference comes after Poland said it deployed nearly 1,000 troops to its border with Belarus to help border guards cope with a surge of migrants - mostly from Iraq - trying to enter the country.
More than 4,100 migrants have arrived in Lithuania so far this year and are being sheltered in temporary camps across the country.
Lithuania’s border guard service released video footage on Wednesday which it said reveals that migrants are being pushed across the border into EU territory by Belarus riot police. Another video showed several people cross into Lithuania and immediately return to be filmed by Belarus officials.
After talks with Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte on Wednesday, EU Parliament President David Sassoli accused Lukashenko, once dubbed Europe’s last dictator, of “exploiting these poor people, men and women.”
“I have seen these outrageous actions when officials push people across the border. It is both an issue of human rights, and also a question of protecting the border of the EU,” Sassoli said. “It is an organized activity of the Lukashenko regime.”
On the eve of the meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas accused Lukashenko of launching a “hybrid attack” against the 27-nation bloc by channeling migrants to Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland in retaliation over the EU’s sanctions.
“We agree that this is hybrid aggression that uses human beings,” Merkel said after their talks in Berlin. Kallas said that “this is no refugee crisis, but this is a hybrid attack on the European Union.”
Merkel said she would raise the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Friday.