New sanctions for Belarus: EU ups the pressure

The EU foreign ministers have agreed on new sanctions against Belarus. Airlines and travel agencies will face penalties if they transport migrants who are instrumentalised for political purposes. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also had a phone conversation with Belarus's unrecognised leader Alexander Lukashenka. Can this defuse the dramatic situation at the border?

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La Stampa (IT) /

No one helping trapped migrants

Apparently the EU is not thinking about the fate of the refugees stuck at the border, La Stampa worries:

“Josep Borrell, the Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security, says the influx of migrants to Belarus is 'back under control', as pressure from Brussels has made it possible to block almost all flights to Minsk. Faced with the threat of sanctions that would have cut them off from the European market, Middle Eastern airlines and travel agencies have changed their course. ... Brussels' strategy aims to avoid escalating the crisis, and it seems to be bearing fruit - even the US is ready to impose new sanctions - but it has not solved the problem of the migrants stuck out in the cold in the border area between Poland and Belarus.”

Ekho Moskvy (RU) /

Lukashenka bends opponents to his will

For blogger Alexander Gorny on Echo of Moscow, the fact that Chancellor Merkel talked to Lukashenka on the phone even though the West does not recognise him as head of state shows how powerful he is:

“Lukashenka has brilliantly mastered the art of bending his partners to his will. ... He wriggles his way out of the most difficult situations, only to emerge skilfully as the victor. People in Europe can turn up their noses at him as much as they like, but Merkel had to talk to him. ... In fact everyone is fed up with this situation, and it's high time to put an end to it. Putin could pick up the phone and make clear who's the boss in the Union State. Otherwise sooner or later Lukashenka will bend him to his well too.”

Die Welt (DE) /

Brussels must give Minsk something

The EU will have to find a face-saving solution to the dictator, says Die Welt:

“Regarding the current situation, this could mean asking Russia's President Vladimir Putin for a summit meeting between Lukashenka, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU Council President Charles Michel, with Russia as mediator. This meeting would not be about granting any concessions, it would only be about offering Lukashenka the international platform he craves, so that he can conceal his loss of face. ... Lukashenka could announce his willingness to let the migrants go back to their home countries, in return for which the sanctions could be waived at a later date.”

Contributors (RO) /

Win over neighbours for an interim solution

Neighbouring countries should take in migrants while the EU considers their asylum claims, Contributors suggests:

“Migrants at the border with Belarus who have crossed into EU territory could be transferred to Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova or Georgia, and apply for political asylum from there. Of course, this can only be done on the basis of agreements with the three countries. The EU would have to commit to increasing financial and political support. ... Certainly, this is not an ideal solution. But it could be a short-term solution to respond to a challenge that is unparalleled in its cynicism and brutality. It could also be an opportunity for the EU and its eastern neighbours to strengthen their partnerships.”

Postimees (EE) /

Concerted diversion

Postimees shares US Secretary of State Blinken's view that the migration wave in Belarus is being used to divert attention from the build-up of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border:

“Minsk and Moscow are playing together, and even if tension eases in one place, it may mean that an even bigger problem flares up somewhere else. ... The shapers of world politics know one thing - without Ukraine, Russia is not an empire. Belarus is now tighter on the Kremlin's leash than at any time in the last 30 years, but Ukraine is decisive. That's why the EU, Nato and all states in the region must be ready to defend it with every means at their disposal if they don't want to be taken by surprise as with the Crimean annexation in 2014.”