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Poland increases security as more migrants from Belarus try to cross the border

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Thousands of migrants are currently stranded in Eastern Europe. These migrants are trying to get into Poland and thus into the European Union. Poland has responded by closing its border crossing and sending in troops to keep the migrants out.

Politico journalist Suzanne Lynch has been following the developments from Brussels, and she joins us now. Suzanne, thanks for being here. So many of the images that I'm looking at now of this situation are really striking. Can you describe what is happening right now at the border between Belarus and Poland? What does it look like?

SUZANNE LYNCH: Yeah. These tensions have been building up for months between Belarus, which is bordering the European Union on its east, and those Eastern European countries like Poland and Lithuania. And for the last few months, the Belorussian authorities have effectively been encouraging migrants from the Middle East to come to Belarus - offering visas, accelerating flights and travel options, bringing them to the capital Minsk - and then, if you like, funneling them through to the European Union and encouraging them to go into Poland to cross the border into the EU. Now, the Polish authorities, as you describe there, have also been reacting. They've been sending - they've been massing troops there on the border. They're saying that these migrants can't just walk over the border. And there is now a standoff, and it's become very, very serious in the last few weeks and few days. And we now have a situation where thousands of migrants, many of them children, are now gathered in this kind of no man's land between Belarus, which is not in the European Union, and the eastern borders of the EU.

MARTIN: And these images - I mean, there's, like, a barbed wire and the migrants on one side and Polish troops on the other. So can we talk about the motivation here? I mean, why would the government of Lukashenko encourage migrants to go up and try to cross the border here into Poland when it's clear Poland isn't going to let them in?

LYNCH: Well, this is - has been brewing for quite some time. Firstly, Belarus had elections in 2020, which were widely regarded as fraudulent, and the EU did not accept the outcome of those elections. Then, in May, people may remember an audacious move by the Belorussian authorities, which they diverted a Ryanair flight, and they detained, seized a Belorussian dissident from that plane.

Now, as a result of those moves, the EU has imposed sanctions on Belarus. Belarus is not happy. And this idea of encouraging migrants to go to the EU is effectively being seen as punishment for the EU. It's a very, very cynical deployment and instrumentalization of migrants, of real people towards Europe. And it's trying to stoke up anxiety in the European Union and controversy over the whole migrant issue that we remember from 2015.

MARTIN: At the same time, the EU's not too pleased about how Poland is managing this, right?

LYNCH: That's true. There's another aspect here. Separately, Brussels - the European Commission - has been at loggerheads with the Polish government, which has been - is an increasingly right-wing government in recent years about their own problems with rule of law. But over the last few days, we've seen a bit of a shift from Brussels. They are now saying, look; we're in solidarity with Poland. You know, they are the victim of what people are calling a hybrid attack. And both - at the same time, they are worried that the Polish authorities are not letting in NGOs, they're not letting in journalists. And there is an information vacuum there.

MARTIN: One last question - it's an important one. Lukashenko in Belarus is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. What role is Russia playing?

LYNCH: Yeah. It looks like Russia has at least tacit role in this. And we're just hearing, as I'm speaking to you now, that Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has phoned Vladimir Putin this morning, asking him to exert some pressure on Belarus to try and stop this crisis.

MARTIN: Suzanne Lynch - she's a reporter for Politico Europe based in Brussels. Thank you so much.

LYNCH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.