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Protect borders or give into ‘blackmailing’ – Merkel warned as Belarus migrant row deepens

Thousands of migrants from countries including Iraq and Syria are being flown to Belarus, reportedly under the promise of easy entry into the EU, and then shown the way to the Polish border where they are met by barbed wire fences and soldiers. This, according to the Editor of FOCUS online, has been “cynically and cleverly engineered by [Belarusian and Russian leaders] Lukashenko and Putin”.

Matthias Hochstätter wrote that while the EU has a number of options for getting out of this crisis, “none of them are clean”.

He added: “Angela Merkel knows this.”

Mr Hochstätter claimed that adding further sanctions on Belarus would be unlikely to produce any solutions since President Alexander Lukashenko has the support of Vladimir Putin, who himself “has one hand on the European gas tap”.

Even if sanctions did deal a blow to the country’s economy, Mr Hochstätter noted that “Lukashenko has never been interested in the economic vegetation of his own population”.

Sanctioning the airlines which are bringing migrants into Belarus would also be unlikely to bring the row any closer to closure.

Leaders could simply use cargo and military aircraft instead.

The EU could technically hold a strong line at the Polish border with Belarus, backing up the heavily forested area with financial and, perhaps, ground support.

But, as Mr Hochstätter pointed out, “the EU states would then have to endure the images of refugees camping in the cold and be asked questions about morality and compassion”.

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But this would firstly amount to Brussels backing down to Belarus, which would not exactly be a good look on the international stage.

And secondly, it would place the bloc under immense economic and social pressure from within – and not for the first time.

Mr Hochstätter asks: “Can we do this?”

Likewise, negotiating with President Lukashenko in an attempt to settle the row would produce a groundswell of accusations that the EU had given in to the dictator.

On this, Mr Hochstätter does not mince his words: “That would mean giving in to the blackmailer, negotiating with a criminal and rewarding him for his misdeeds.”

For now, it appears as though neither the EU nor Belarus is willing to give in.

But at some stage, somewhere, something is going to have to give.

Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg.