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Migrants And Troops Gather At Poland-Belarus Border, Heightening Tensions

At the Poland-Belarus border, tensions are escalating by the minute. The stranded group of 3,000-4,000 migrants at the border have made a number of attempts, including three “large scale” endeavors, to breach the frontier over the past week, but were driven back by the force of 15,000 soldiers and border guards Poland mobilized.

Videos released by Polish authorities show migrants, who are forced to endure freezing temperatures that reach below zero throughout the night at their camps, using shovels and wire cutters in order to break through fencing while being fended off with tear gas.

Authorities say several migrants have been found dead at the border, likely due to the weather conditions and lack of food, water, and medical supplies. The crisis is expected to only grow worse over the coming days.

While saying the situation is difficult, Polish Border Guard head Ewelina Szczepańska expressed confidence in Poland’s security to CNN. Poland’s Ministry of Defense noted that the migrants are camped out in the Kuznica region and are being guarded by Belarusian services.

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The Belarus State Border Committee has said that the migrants do not pose any kind of security threat or behave aggressively, and instead wish to enter the country as refugees. According to a Polish Guard spokesman, Belarusian services are responsible for moving large groups of migrants to the border.

Lithuania, which shares a border with Poland and Belarus, has announced its intentions to redeploy troops as well, while also being prepared for “all possible scenarios.”

The European Union (EU), the United States, and NATO have accused Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko of “manufacturing” a migrant crisis on the EU eastern frontier by directing Middle Eastern migrants to Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia in an act of revenge for sanctions over human right abuses. Lukashenko and his regime have denied all accusations, instead blaming the West for their migrant conduct.

These sanctions, along with visa restrictions, were announced by the U.S. Department of State back in August, which not only stated were in regards to the “increased repression and deteriorating human rights situation” that was unfolding in Belarus, but also acknowledged the anniversary of the fraudulent Belarus election that allowed Lukashenko to continue his reign, which started back in 1994.

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According to Reuters, more sanctions are on the way for Belarus. The EU’s 27 ambassadors met Wednesday, agreeing that the massing of migrants on the Poland-Belarus border amounts to “hybrid warfare” and provides a basis for additional sanctions.

Poland’s Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, has accused Vladimir Putin and Russia of being the “masterminds” behind the ongoing crisis, due to its strong support for Lukashenko and Belarus. The Kremlin denied those claims while also flying two nuclear-capable Tu-22M3 bombers over the border Wednesday as a show of strength.

After German police reported an uptick in migrants illegally entering Germany, Poland announced its plans to spend 1.6 billion zlotys ($4.4 million) on building a wall, which would include motion sensors and cameras, on the Belarus border. Poland had previously been building barbed-wire fencing.

Many have criticized Poland of violating the international right for asylum, to which the country replied that their actions are legal. Poland saw 13.3 million immigrants enter the country in 2020, down from 16.6 million in 2019 – which was the highest total the country had dealt with in the past two decades.

Two Journalists Receive Two Years In Prison For Live-Streaming Belarus Protest 

Journalists Darya Chultsova, 23, and Yekaterina Andreyeva, 27, have been sentenced to two years in prison for live-streaming a demonstration in Belarus. The two work for the independent Belsat TV channel and were detained back in November while covering a protest that was in memory of an opposition activist who died in Minsk a few days prior. 

Roman Bondarenko was a local media activist who apparently died from injuries sustained after being beaten by riot police. The Prosecutor General of Belarus announced this week that an investigation into his death is already being launched but “the involvement of employees of the internal affairs bodies in causing Bondarenkp bodily harm has not been established.” 

This Thursday the courts ruled that both Chultsova and Andreyeva were guilty of “organizing a demonstration that grossly violates public order.”

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Investigators revealed that the two journalists allegedly gathered protestors “by talking about it on air, which then led to interruptions of public transport in the area.” The two are maintaining their innocence on the matter. 

“I have everything: youth, a job that I love, prominence and, most importantly, a clear conscience. I want to devote all my energy to the creation of Belarus without political repression. I demand an acquittal for myself, for my colleagues and for hundreds of political prisoners,” Andreyeva said at a previous court hearing, according to local media.

Viasna is a Belarussian human rights group that designated the two young journalists as political prisoners and claimed the charges against them are being enforced because of their work as journalists. Belsat is a politically independent TV channel that’s based in Poland. The channel primarily reports on Belarus and it’s budget relies on Polish state subsidies. 

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Ever since its presidential elections in August of 2020, Belarus has been taken over by mass protests. Alexander Lukashenko has been in power since 1994, and when he secured his sixth term last summer, claims of a rigged election began flooding media outlets and independent observers who were commentating on the manner. 

Tens of thousands of people have been taking to the streets in Belarus, demanding Lukashenko’s resignation. Riot police have since cracked down on the protests, beating and detaining thousands of protestors. Some media outlets have reported that the detention centers these protestors are being held at are riddled with abuse and torture. 

“Just look at Darya and Yekaterina, strong, smiling, and saying goodbyes to their loved ones through bars. Lukashenka can’t break us,” Belarussian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said in a tweet on Thursday. As of right now the two journalists will begin their sentence in the coming weeks.