Russian president Vladimir Putin said on Saturday that Western countries, rather than Belarus, were ultimately responsible for a migrant crisis on the Belarus-Poland border, pointing to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mr Putin’s comment came after Polish police said a body of a young Syrian man was found in the woods near the border with Belarus.
The body was found near the village of Wolka Terechowska, police said, and the exact cause of death could not be determined.
Russia is a key ally of Belarus, which the European Union has accused of mounting a “hybrid attack” by flying in thousands of migrants, mainly from the Middle East, and pushing them to try to cross illegally into Poland.
As the EU prepares to impose new sanctions on Minsk, Mr Putin told Russian state television he thought Belarus was not to blame for the crisis.
“Let’s not forget where these crises with migrants came from . . . Is Belarus a pioneer in these problems? No, the reasons were created by Western and European countries themselves,” he said.
Referring to conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr Putin noted that Iraqi Kurds and Afghans were among the migrants at the Belarusian border. “Belarus has nothing to do with it . . . the fact they’ve come via Belarus is unsurprising because Belarus . . . has visa-free entry for the countries of origin.”
He accused Polish forces on the border with Belarus of beating migrants, firing rounds above their heads and turning on lights and sirens at night near the migrants.
“This doesn’t really tie in well with the ideas of humanity that supposedly underpin all the policies of our Western neighbours,” he said.
Belarus said the number of migrants arriving at a makeshift camp on the border was growing daily.
Mr Putin said he hoped Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko and German chancellor Angela Merkel would discuss the crisis, saying the migrants mainly wanted to go to Germany.
The regime in Minsk has for months been encouraging illegal migration across the border into the EU nations of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
All three countries are reinforcing their borders, seeking to block the newly opened migration route, and the situation is growing more dangerous as winter approaches.
The discovery of a body reported on Saturday brings the death toll now to at least nine reported victims.
Many of the migrants are from Syria, Iraq, or elsewhere in the Middle East, people seeking to flee conflict and hopelessness for the prospect of better lives in Europe.
After the large migration into Europe in 2015, Europe has been reinforcing its borders to discourage new arrivals.
Still, every year, tens of thousands try to get in, embarking on dangerous and sometimes deadly journeys by sea and land.
Since the summer, thousands have been lured by what appeared to be a new and easier way to slip into Europe, through Belarus.
The EU accuses Mr Lukashenko of creating the artificial route in order to retaliate for sanctions against his regime imposed after an election in 2020 widely viewed as flawed and a harsh crackdown on internal dissent that followed. – PA, Reuters