2021.11.17 17:31

Situation in Belarus closer to military action than migrant crisis – Finnish FM

Andrius Balčiūnas, LRT.lt2021.11.17 17:31

By sending migrants to Poland, Belarus' dictator Alexander Lukashenko was seeking to widen a rift between Warsaw and the EU, believes Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto. He failed – but keeping direct communication with Minsk officials is necessary to resolve the situation, he said.

Haavisto spoke to reporters during the Arctic Spirit conference in Rovaniemi, Finland.

Read more: Migration crisis in Baltics and Poland

Several weeks ago, Haavisto met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Norway, where they discussed the situation on the EU–Belarus border.

“When Lukashenko some days ago raised the threat about the gas pipes, closing them for Europe, the reaction from Moscow was very rapid. [They said] this is not their plan, this is not what they agree to. And this showed that Lukashenko in this threat was alone,” Haavisto said.

In his view, the reason why Belarusian officials directed irregular migrants to the border with Poland was to exploit the current rift between Warsaw and Brussels. However, Haavisto said, Lukashenko has failed to divide the EU.

“The EU is very united on this. Even if we might have some open questions with Poland, we are not opening them more, but we are concentrating on the safety and security at the borders,” according to the Finnish minister.

Not real refugees

Finland was in a somewhat similar situation when irregular migration intensified on the Finnish-Russian border back in 2015. According to local reports, the issue was resolved after the Finnish president made a phone call to Russia's Vladimir Putin.

The current situation on the border with Belarus should not be compared to the European migrant crisis of six years ago, Haavisto believes.

“President Lukashenko is producing this artificial hybrid operation, offering people a possibility to fly to Minsk with a promise that you can continue from Minsk to EU territory. [...] It’s very important that EU says ‘No, this cannot happen like this. These are not genuine refugees that we are dealing with, this is a hybrid operation that you are preparing’,” according to Haavisto.

He said that Belarus was a safe country for refugees, so those fleeing war or persecution should ask for asylum there.

Direct dialogue

Lithuania and Poland have been pushing back migrants from its borders and started building physical barriers to keep them out.

“I think we have a right to react in these circumstances. I hope this does not lead to building new fences and all that, but we are also facing a very serious situation, where someone with weapons is pushing people. It’s very close to something that’s a military action [and] very far from what we have seen in migration crises,” Haavisto said. “I think its very important that we make this distinction.”

Earlier this week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had a phone call with Lukashenko, the first European leader to talk with him since last year's rigged presidential election and subsequent crackdowns on pro-democratic opposition.

Although the EU does not recognise Lukashenko as the legitimate president of Belarus, Haavisto said he supported the need for a direct dialogue.

He himself met with Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei in September, during the UN General Assembly.

“When I took part in the UNGA in September, I asked particularly to meet my colleague Vladimir Makei in New York and to understand better where are they heading with these issues. As you can imagine, most of the issues we could not agree on, we had very different analysis of the situation,” Haavisto said.

“I think it’s very important to communicate directly to Belarus, not only through newspapers or media, but in person, having that contact. Currently, of course, the situation is so that there are no negotiation possibilities and the EU is acting in the only possible way, by supporting neighbouring countries – Poland, Latvia, Lithuania – in these circumstances,” he continued. “My hope is that where this situation will lead would be democratic elections in Belarus sooner or later.”

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