Russia Says West Created Migrant Crisis at Belarus-Poland Border Through Middle East Wars

Russian officials are blaming the West for initially setting the stage for the migrant crisis now unfolding at the border between Belarus and Poland by waging wars in the Middle East and nearby countries over the past two decades.

Asked by Newsweek on Moscow's position on the thousands of refugees who have attempted to enter the European Union via Poland by way of Russian ally Belarus, the Russian Foreign Ministry referred to comments a day earlier by President Vladimir Putin at the ministry's collegium.

He warned that Western nations were using the events to stir unrest near Russia's own borders while neglecting their own responsibilities.

"It is also impossible to ignore that Western countries are using the migration crisis on the Belarus-Poland border as a new reason for tension in a region close to us, for putting pressure on Minsk, while at the same time forgetting their own humanitarian commitments," Putin said.

He pointed to the behavior of Polish border guards, who have intercepted the wave of migrants, many of whom come from war-torn nations such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, and who came to Belarus after a relaxation of the country's visa rules in August.

"Just look how the Polish security forces are behaving at the border – you can watch it on the internet or on television," Putin said. "The first thing that comes to mind is those poor children, there are small children there. And they are shooting water and tear gas at the crowd, throwing grenades. At night, helicopters fly along the border, sirens are howling."

But Poland and Western allies, including the United Kingdom and the United States, have accused longtime Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of luring the asylum seekers to his country as a weapon against his neighboring rivals, and alleged Putin has only enabled him.

To this, the Russian Foreign Ministry referred Newsweek to the words of spokesperson Maria Zakharova during a press conference on Wednesday, who pointed to a "lack of a sense of responsibility for the life of specific people or regions in connection with their own mistakes, miscalculations or crimes."

"As if this issue does not exist, including everything that happened in Iraq in the early 2000s and lasted for many years, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, and in the entire region during the Arab Spring, which was supported by the West," Zakharova said. "As if the collective West had no role to play in this, and everything was done by other people who are not connected with 'their' countries."

Belarus, migrants, logistics, center, Poland, border
Migrants stay in the transport and logistics centre near the Bruzgi border point on the Belarusian-Polish border in Belarus' Grodno region on November 19. Around 2,000 migrants who had been camped out in freezing conditions at Belarus's border with Poland spent the night in a logistics center after their camp was cleared by border guards, state news agency Belta reported. MAXIM GUCHEK/Belta/AFP/Getty Images

Zakharova issued a similar response in response to allegations by British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss, who wrote in The Times that Moscow bore "clear responsibility" for the conflict regarding migrants at the Belarus-Poland border, which she referred to as a "carefully crafted crisis is an attempt to divert attention away from the litany of abhorrent acts and human rights violations that the regime has already committed."

"Nothing at all is said about the direct connection between the current events and the UK's massive involvement in the armed interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and events in Syria," Zakharova said. "These interventions not only killed people and destroyed the statehood of these countries, but also ruined their economies, forcing a substantial part of their population to go to other parts of the world, less in search of a better life than a chance of survival."

The U.K. and the U.S. were among the first nations to intervene in Afghanistan in 2001 and, alongside Australia and Poland, in Iraq in 2003. Nations of the NATO Western military alliance also soon became involved in both countries as well as in Libya, where a 2011 military campaign helped rebels to overthrow leader Muammar el-Qaddafi, leaving a power vacuum that sparked further unrest and civil war.

That same year, unrest in Syria also erupted into a conflict in which the U.S. and some Western allies, along with regional partners, backed rebels against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who was backed by Iran and Russia and remains in power today.

Zakharova referenced these conflicts again when asked to respond to White House spokesperson Jen Psaki's recent remarks that President Joe Biden's administration was "still calling on Russia and encouraging them directly to use its influence to press the Lukashenko regime to cease its callous exploitation and coercion of vulnerable people."

"I feel an urge to answer our partners in their own style," Zakharova said. "We call on the White House, as well as on their NATO and coalition partners, to review their own mistakes, blunders, and downright criminal actions taken as part of U.S. foreign policy that influenced the migration crisis now affecting the European continent."

"Without such an analysis, it is impossible for them to understand the current situation or estimate the future," she added. "The crisis has not ended; in recent months, migrants have appeared not only at the Polish-Belarusian border, but also at other borders with the EU countries, and more places besides. How can you not see the true reasons for what is happening there?"

Moscow and Minsk have accused the U.S. and European countries of seeking to unseat Lukashenko since August of last year, when opposition protests erupted in response to a disputed election that saw the Belarusian leader win a sixth term after more than 25 years in power.

Poland and other NATO countries would go on to house leading Belarusian opposition figures who seek Lukashenko's ouster, as allegations of human rights abuses and political suppression have also drawn sanctions from the U.S. and the European Union.

In the midst of the latest tensions, Lukashenko offered his side of the story during an interview with BBC News aired on Friday. In it, he said it was "perfectly possible" that his forces could have helped migrants transit to Poland.

"We're Slavs. We have hearts. Our troops know the migrants are going to Germany," Lukashenko said. "Maybe someone helped them. I won't even look into this."

But he denied that his government invited the refugees into his country to facilitate such a crossing.

"I told the EU I'm not going to detain migrants on the border, hold them at the border, and if they keep coming from now on I still won't stop them, because they're not coming to my country, they're going to yours," the Belarusian leader said. "The West stopped talking to us and working with us. If you don't want to, then fine. We'll sort this problem out ourselves, as best as we can."

He also acknowledged that his security forces had beaten migrants at one detention center but said police too had been beaten, something that Western media had not reported.

On Thursday, Belarusian security forces cleared migrant encampments near the border with Poland and transferred around 2,000 of its inhabitants to a logistic center in the Grozni region. Hundreds of other asylum seekers from Iraq accepted an offer by Iraq's northern Kurdistan Regional Government to repatriate them by air.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Lukashenko of "doing a terrible injustice to these people that it is victimizing by making them pawns in the efforts that the Belarusian regime is engaged in to be disruptive."

He said he had remained in contact with European partners on the situation and would determine future actions in response to the fallout of clearing the camps.

"We will remain very focused on this," Blinken said, "and we'll see exactly what this actually means and what the practical effect of the clearing of the camps is."

Poland, security, forces, border, Belarus
Polish law enforcement officers secure the frontier at the Bruzgi-Kuznica border crossing on the Belarusian-Polish border on November 19. Both Belarus and Poland have accused one another of mistreating migrants as they attempt to make their way into the European Union. Belta/AFP/Getty Images