migrant crisis in Belarus test Putin’s Uneasy Alliance met Lukashenko

MOSCOW — While European Governments Threatened Belarus with deeper sanctions this week for fueling the migration crisis on the Belarusian-Polish border, his bombastic leader responded with what sounded? like an asset card: he could stop the flow of gas to the west.

There was just one problem: It wasn’t his gas to stop.

So on Friday, Russia — that sends a lot of his gas to Europe via Belarus — had to set the record Straight ahead for the Belarusian President, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko.

“Russia was, is and will” remain a country that meets everything of his obligations in deliver to European customers with gas,” the spokesperson for President Vladimir V. Putin told reporters.

met thousands of migrants still stranded in the freezing cold on the edge of the European Union – encouraged by Belarus to go there, but barred from crossing the border by Poland, an EU member – looms complex relationship between two allied autocrats over the crisis. The mixed messages over Russia’s natural gas exports were the latest sign that even if Mr Putin continues met back Mr. Lukashenko, it is the Belarusian leader – a strong man who once had a Soviet collective farm – who continues to raise the stakes.

Mr Lukashenko’s Belarus is the only thing in Russia full-mature ally in Eastern Europe, the region that Moscow has long seen as its most important area of influence. That gives him too much leverage with Mr Putin, even though his country is of nine million people has a fracture of the measure — let alone the military power – of its eastern neighbour.

utilities, with tensions between Belarus and the West are reaching their highest level since Mr Lukashenko brutally crushed a popular uprising last year, some allies of the Kremlin says Russia will get drawn in not a crisis of his choosing.

“We can not allow the tail to wag with dog,” Konstantin Zatulin, a senior Mr Putin’s Russian legislator party who is specialized in relationships with post-Soviet countries, said in an interview. “Lukashenko wants to be the victor psychologically – it is his desire to be a macho. Between die wish and our policy there is a difference that needs to be seen.”

Lukashenko’s guess – western officials have accused him of orchestrate the flow of migrants to the border — has the uneasy alliance between his government And his powerful Russian ally. last spring, facing a storm of international indignation over the emergency landing of a European passenger plane with a Belarusian dissident on board, Mr Lukashenko seemed to have no choice but to bow to his benefactors in the Kremlin and in to vote met deeper integration with them.

But six months later Mr Lukashenko packed up up long-term conversations with Mr Putin does not seem to be relinquishing much Belarusian sovereignty, and he is again leave the Kremlin no choice but double down in to be support.

“People in Moscow is all sick and tired of Lukashenko,” said Sergei Markov, a pro-Kremlin analyst. “He’s the smartest” of negotiators.”

On Friday, in An show of solidarity, Russia flew paratroopers to the area of border of Belarus with Poland for assignments with Belarusian soldiers. Two paratroopers died from injuries sustained in the exercises, the Russian Defense Ministry said. earlier in the week, Russia twice bombers met nuclear weapons sent on patrols to the same region.

Belarus defense minister, Viktor Khrenin, claimed that the Belarusian and Russian intelligence services information showed that the EU’s neighbours, met especially Poland, had taken military actions die suggested they were ready to “start A conflict.”

But even some critics of Mr Lukashenko and Mr Putin believe the Kremlin will try to withdraw Belarus at some point back out of confrontation.

“I think in this particular crisis, the impulse to in to grab up will come via Russia,” said Artyom Shraibman, a Belarusian scholar for the Carnegie Moscow Center who was forced to flee Belarus this year. “For Russia, escalation will become uncomfortable.”

In the current crisis, Mr Lukashenko’s goal is simple, albeit far-fetched, analysts say: force the European Union – die considers him an illegitimate president – ​​to negotiate over with him and around drop its sanctions. AN senior EU official said on Friday the block had “no” information” indicating that Mr Putin had caused the migrant crisis but criticized Russia for Do not influence Belarus to stop it.

For now, the Kremlin appears content leave Europe struggle with Mr Lukashenko on its own. Although Mr Putin spoke with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany twice this week, Russian officials continue to insist that Europeans met Belarus need to talk directly.

With mounting pressure to end the border crisis, different airlines on friday said: they restricted flights to Belarus from the Middle East, where most of where the migrants have traveled from. These include Turkish Airlines, one of the largest airlines die offer flights to Minsk, the capital of Belarus.

At the same time, aid organizations described appalling conditions for migrants huddled at the border, struggling against the cold and threats of violence. An Iraqi couple and a Syrian man were beaten and robbed, activist said coalition Grupa Granica.

The migration crisis is in the background of rising tensions between Russia and Belarus’s southern neighbor, Ukraine – a former Russian ally die has broken free in its pro-western revolution in 2014. It’s Ukraine’s turn for Moscow, a warning tale that the Kremlin is determined not to repeat this.

“Putin took Crimea, that’s bad good, but Putin lost Ukraine,” Mr. Markov, the pro-Kremlin analyst, said. “If he also lose Belarus, he will never be forgiven for the.”

Mr Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994, and for years benefited from the competition between Russia and the West for influence in his country, causing deep frustration in Moscow. Which game ended up last year, when he declared a landslide reelection victory? in An vote widely regarded as fraudulent, leading the EU to impose sanctions die continue to bother him.

with mr. Lukashenkos opponents seen as too pro-western, Kremlin backed him despite his reservations – save Lukashenko’s regime but saddle Putin with a never-more- capricious ally.

In Moscow, many expected the Kremlin’s support translate towards closer integration in An “union state” between Russia and Belarus, die would have increased Mr Putin’s geopolitical power. But die talks ended with no agreement earlier this fall on An common currency of legislature – indicating that Mr. Lukashenko was able to maintain his independence.

Mr Putin and Mr Lukashenko, both in their late 60s, share a world view focused on one two-faceddecadent West. Both supervised hard performance on disagreement in the last year. The uprising of 2020 against Mr Lukashenko in a neighboring Russian-speaking country terrified the Kremlin, Russian analysts say, and helped Putin’s decision to dismantle the movement of the opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny.

Lukashenko’s approach to migration shows how he has tried to maneuver between Russia and the West. In 2018, he boasted that his country’s border guards significantly reduced human trafficking of migrants and drugs into the European Union. In recent months he has swerved the other way, with Western officials say he orchestrated a wave of migration via Minsk airport to the borders of his country, in the hope the EU in embarrassment by legitimizing him.

To the ground in Minsk, the human toll of Which strategy Is obvious.

For large numbers of asylum seekers started to come over summer, a rights activist in Minsk said, they came as part of organized tour groups with reservations at the Yubileyny – a hotel complex managed by the Presidential Administration of the Republic of Belarus.

Now they start run out of money, Alena Czechovich, the activist in Minsk, said in a telephone interview, with some forced to sleep on the street. Others moved to hostels in the city center, even with expired visa – another sign, Mrs. Czechovich claimed that the Belarusian government, die usually careful in keep an eye on for migration violations, the crisis worsened.

Mrs. Czechovich said that many migrants who to get from Minsk to the border being in basically stranded in makeshift camps there, guarded by Belarusian border guards who prevent them from returning.

“It’s sad that people end up in this situation simply because of the actions of the state,” she says.

Oleg Matsnev provided coverage from Moscow and Monika Pronczuk from Brussels.

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