Nato should stay out of Belarus border crisis as bringing in military ‘very, very dangerous’, says UK armed forces minister

The European Union must take responsibility for its own borders, the armed forces minister has said, amid calls for Nato to intervene in the worsening migrant crisis on the Belarusian border.

James Heappey warned that calling up the military alliance to manage the bloc’s external frontiers would be “very, very dangerous territory”.

His intervention came amid escalating fears the migrant crisis could spark a violent conflict, with Russia becoming more involved with its public support for Belarus.

Some 15,000 Polish troops are currently stationed on the border, where 4,000 migrants are currently camped close to the village of Kuznica.

“In principle and first of all it is a task of the European Union to protect its borders. The earlier the EU reacts, the better,” Mr Heappey said, at the Annual Baltic Conference on Defence in Estonia.

“The moment it becomes a military thing, you are in a very difficult direction. If this becomes principally a Nato issue, we’re in some very, very, very, very dangerous territory.”

Some 15,000 Polish troops are currently stationed on the border

Credit: REUTERS

European leaders have accused Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian president, of carrying out a "hybrid war" on the EU by using illegal migration to destabilise the bloc.

Poland, which is currently the frontline of the battle, has called for Nato support, amid concerns that Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is orchestrating the plot to send Middle Eastern migrants to the EU from Moscow.

The crisis has sparked a new confrontation between the West and Russia, which dispatched two nuclear capable strategic bombers to patrol Belarusian airspace on Wednesday in a show of support for its ally. Belarus said Russian planes carried out drills for a second day on Thursday.

"We have to constantly monitor the situation at the border. Let them squeak, let them shout. Yes, these are bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons. But we have no other option. We must see what they are doing there beyond the borders," Mr Lukashenko said

Adding to the tensions, satellite photos confirmed reports that Russia is once again massing troops and military hardware on its borders with Ukraine.

Estonian officials have suggested the two events are linked, while Kalle Laanet, the country’s defence minister, warned: "The potential for escalation is extremely high."

Poland’s foreign ministry on Thursday confirmed that the EU was considering hitting Russia with sanctions over the migrant stand-off on the Belarusian border.

Mr Lukashenko threatened to retaliate for any sanctions, including by shutting down the transit of natural gas and goods via Belarus.

There are calls for Nato to intervene in the worsening migrant crisis on the Belarusian border

Credit: AP

Lucasz Jasina, a Polish foreign ministry spokesman, told Russia’s Echo Moskvy radio that Warsaw thinks Aeroflot, Russia’s flagship airline, might be involved in the Belarus-orchestrated migrant flows to the EU border.

“Aeroflot has supported Lukashenko’s actions regarding people from the Middle East, according to our intelligence,” he said.

Aeroflot, Russia’s publicly traded airline company, was quick to deny the reports and said it was considering legal actions against individuals voicing the allegations that “might negatively impact its operations and financials". 

The company added that it does not operate flights to Iraq or Syria or fly between Istanbul and Minsk, a route that has become popular with asylum-seekers.

Angela Merkel, the departing German chancellor, called on Mr Putin to intervene with Belarus.

But Russia blamed the EU, accusing Brussels of trying to "strangle" Minsk, the Belarus capital, by closing off the border.

Washington has warned Moscow it would be making a "serious mistake" by making any aggressive moves towards Ukraine.

Anthony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, said: "We don’t have clarity into Moscow’s intentions, but we do know its playbook.

"Any escalatory actions would be of great concern to the United States."

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