Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday denied claims Moscow is helping to orchestrate a crisis that has left hundreds of migrants from the Middle East trapped on the Belarus-Poland border.
Blaming Western policies in the Middle East for the crisis, Putin hit back at claims from Poland and others that Russia is working with Belarus to send migrants to the border of the European Union.
Putin said European leaders needed to talk to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to resolve the crisis and that “as I understand it” German Chancellor Angela Merkel was ready to do so.
The migrants, mainly Kurds, have been stuck for days in a no-man’s land on the border in near-freezing temperatures, setting up a tent camp and burning wood to keep warm.
– Tents, heaters brought to camp –
Belarusian authorities said Saturday they were delivering aid including tents and heaters to the migrant camp — a move that could make it a semi-permanent presence on the borders of the EU.
Migrants have been trying to cross the border for months, but the crisis came to a head when hundreds made a concerted effort on Monday and were pushed back by Polish border guards.
Police said the cause of death could not be immediately determined and that a group of around 100 migrants had attempted to cross the border during the night in the area.
European leaders have accused Lukashenko, who has ruled ex-Soviet Belarus for nearly 30 years, of luring the migrants to his country to send across the border in revenge for sanctions imposed over a bloody crackdown on his opponents.
– EU set for new sanctions –
He said they would apply among others to Belarusian state airline Belavia, which has been accused of ferrying groups of migrants from Turkey and elsewhere to Minsk.
“There can’t be any dialogue with the dictator trying to blackmail democratic countries,” Tikhanovskaya, who fled Belarus after claiming victory in a disputed presidential election last year, said on Twitter.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s top foreign policy adviser told AFP on Saturday that Turkey was also not to blame.
Tensions remain high at the border, where thousands of troops have been deployed on both sides.
Russia, Lukashenko’s main ally, sent planes including strategic bombers to patrol over Belarus this week.
“Honestly speaking, it was the first I heard about it,” Putin said.