EU on brink: VDL forced to seek help from Biden over Belarus crisis

Belarus: Expert discusses sanctions against Lukashenko

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The EU will widen sanctions against Belarus next week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday after a meeting with Mr Biden.

“Very rapidly at the beginning of next week there will be a widening of the sanctions against Belarus,” she told reporters after the meeting, noting that sanctions would apply to individuals as well as entities.

EU diplomats have said the EU plans to target some 30 people and entities including the foreign minister and Belarusian airline Belavia.

The EU and NATO accuse President Alexander Lukashenko of using migrants as a weapon to pressure the West by sending people fleeing the Middle East to Minsk and then onto the borders of Poland and the Baltic states.

Mr Lukashenko and his ally, Mr Putin, have placed the blame on the EU.

Ursula Von der Leyen said she understood the United States had prepared sanctions against Belarus that would be in effect at the beginning of December.

European defence leaders are now concerned the crisis could morph into a violent conflict, with NATO thus far coming out strongly in support of Poland and its eastern members in their face-off against Minsk, which is within the Russian orbit.

“The potential for escalation is extremely high,” Estonian Defence Minister Kalle Laanet said on Wednesday at a press conference during the Annual Baltic Conference on Defence, a regular event that gathers the defence community in Estonia.

His comments were echoed at the same press conference by senior defence officials from Greece, Lithuania and the UK who all shared the fear of escalation.

Currently, at least 2,000 migrants are camped in freezing temperatures at the Belarus border with Poland, unable to enter the country, but not allowed to turn back — part of a Belarusian scheme EU officials have termed a “hybrid attack” against the bloc, combining political and military elements, Politico reports.

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On Tuesday, Poland accused Moscow of helping orchestrate the plot to lure migrants from Middle Eastern countries to Belarus before sending them to the EU’s borders.

When asked by Politico, Laanet did not rule out the possibility of a full-blown war at the border, although he was exceedingly cautious in his remarks.

“Of course we can’t say that there is no risk,” he said. “But we don’t know yet how high this [risk] is at the moment. … We have to monitor very deeply every day the situation.”

Estonian Defence Forces Commander Martin Herem said on Tuesday that Lukashenko faced logistical impediments to starting a war, even if the authoritarian-inclined leader “seems to have lost his mind.”

“I don’t think that Lukashenko wants to fight a war,” he said. “He doesn’t have enough resources to fight a war, but … some shots are possible.”

What seems more likely, he argued, is “a low-intensity conflict.”

For now, the defence officials said, the EU should focus on providing Poland, as well as nearby Lithuania and Latvia, with logistics and resources, while pressing for new sanctions on Belarus to quell the migrant pipeline.

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