German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called for new EU sanctions against Belarus on Wednesday amid an escalating migrant crisis at the Polish-Belarusian border.
Thousands of people are stranded at the EU’s eastern border in freezing weather, with Warsaw accusing Russia and Belarus of using the migrants to threaten European security.
What did Germany’s foreign minister say?
Maas said in a statement that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is “unscrupulously exploiting” the migrants and sending them to the border region.
“We will sanction all those who participate in the targeted smuggling of migrants,” the German foreign minister asserted, while adding that the EU will push to “extend and tighten … sanctions against Lukashenko’s regime.”
Any fresh sanctions could target not only countries involved in smuggling the migrants but also airlines that faciliate their travel to Europe.
EU officials accuse Belarus of weaponizing the migrants against the 27-member bloc in retaliation for previous sanctions against Minsk. Lukashenko has denied that his government is orchestrating the migrant crisis.
Maas said the images of the thousands of migrants at the Polish-Belarusian border are “appalling.”
Maas’ remarks come after German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told the Tuesday edition of Germany’s Bild tabloid that the EU needs to do more to help Poland secure its border. Poland has refused to let the migrants in.
How has the EU responded so far?
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called for “approval of extended sanctions” against Belarus on Monday.
The bloc has previously approved four rounds of sanctions targeting 166 people and 15 entities linked to Lukashenko’s regime.
Tensions have been fraught between the EU and Belarus since the state-ordered hijacking of a Ryanair flight over Belarusian territory in May.
The EU has also condemned last year’s presidential election in Belarus as neither free nor fair, with Lukashenko having declared a landslide victory against opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
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