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Belarus joins forces with Russia in military exercises at Polish border.

Belarus has joined forces with Russia to carry out joint military exercises on its western border to Poland, near where about 4,000 migrants are trapped in freezing makeshift forest camps.

Minsk released details and images of the “joint tactical battalion group” exercise with paratroopers, which it said was necessary due to an “increase in military activity” near its border.

The move came as Turkey has announced that, with immediate effect, flights from its airports with Belavia, the Belarus national airline, were forbidden from carrying citizens of Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

Increasing numbers of people from these and other countries in the region have been flying to Belarus and trying to cross its 400km border into Poland.

Warsaw has accused its eastern neighbour of launching a “hybrid attack” and has deployed more than 15,000 Polish soldiers to the region in response to a plan it says has been “masterminded” in Moscow.

Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko denies the claims and has threatened to cut Russian gas supplies to Europe in a growing stand-off.

On Thursday Moscow released images from two bombers it has dispatched to patrol Belarus airspace, again in response to what it calls a “massive” military build-up on the Polish side, including military helicopters in the region.

The Belarusian defence ministry said the two Russian Tu-160 strategic bombers practised bombing runs at a firing range just 60km east of the border.

Ankara insisted that Turkish Airlines, its national carrier, was not part of the migration wave. It described the flight ban as a show of support for its Nato allies Poland, Lithuania and Latvia – all of whom have borders to Belarus.

Government restrictions

In a statement Belavia announced the Turkish government restrictions and said those affected could apply for refunds. Belavia is already banned from EU airspace after the forced landing of a Ryanair-owned plane last May in Minsk allowed Belarus police arrest a journalist critical of the Lukashenko government and disputed 2020 elections.

Further EU sanctions against Belarus, including on airlines transporting migrants, are likely as early as next week.

Afters weeks of restrictions, Belarus has allowed access to the crisis region to workers from the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, and the International Organisation for Migration.

At one border point, they distributed emergency aid and food to about 2,000 asylum seekers, including children and pregnant women.

UN high commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi said his agency’s priorities were to prevent loss of life and to move people to safer locations in Belarus. “We appreciate the access,” he wrote on Twitter, “and are ready to assist in finding solutions.”

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