Migrants trapped in Belarus have clashed with Polish soldiers at the border between the two countries, throwing rocks and debris at the heavily armed guards, who responded with water cannons, tear gas and flash grenades.
“The migrants attacked our soldiers and officers with stones and are trying to destroy the fence and get to Poland. Our services used tear gas to stifle the aggression, the Polish Defense Ministry tweeted on November 16.
Live video on CNN showed Polish forces also using water cannons, flash grenades, and smoke grenades against several dozen migrants, who could be seen retreating while a polish helicopter was hovering over the area.
The situation at the border on the EU's eastern flank and Belarus has worsened in recent days.
Thousands of people, mainly from the Middle East, are stuck in makeshift camps in dire conditions on the Belarusian side of the border with Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania, trying to illegally enter the EU.
The bloc accuses Alyaksandr Lukashenka of flying in the migrants to Minsk and funneling them to the bloc's borders to retaliate against Brussels for sanctions imposed following a disputed presidential election in August 2020 that saw the Belarusian authoritarian ruler claim victory despite accusations from the opposition and the West that the vote was rigged.
In response to protests against the election outcome, Lukashenka has ordered a brutal and often violent crackdown on dissent, arresting thousands while clamping down on independent media. Most opposition leaders have fled the country to avoid arrest.
Lukashenka's government, which is backed by Russia, has denied the EU charges that it is using the migrants as pawns and accuses the bloc of violating human rights by refusing to allow them to apply for asylum.
In response to the crisis, Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania, which form the eastern flank of both the EU and NATO, have been reinforcing their borders with Belarus.
On November 15, the EU's 27 foreign ministers updated their Belarus sanctions package to include airlines, travel agents, and individuals allegedly involved in the standoff.
The measures are expected to involve asset freezes and travel bans.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration said it was preparing new sanctions targeting Lukashenka’s regime in coordination with the EU over the "inhumane facilitation" of migrants.
The EU and the United States have already slapped several rounds of sanctions on Belarus over what the opposition and the West say were fraudulent president elections in August 2020 that handed Lukashenka power for a sixth consecutive term and a security crackdown on the opposition and peaceful protesters that followed the vote.