France supports Poland over Belarus, but warns that the EU dispute is not over

  • Macron backs Poland on the border, but raises the rule of law
  • Polish Prime Minister says tougher sanctions against Minsk have been discussed
  • Ukraine is holding exercises near the border with Belarus
  • Belarus’s opposition leader calls for a firm EU response
  • HRW: Belarus, Poland share the blame for migrant disorders

PARIS / WARSAW, November 24 (Reuters) – France on Wednesday assured Poland of EU support in its stand-off with Belarus, but reminded Warsaw of the need to resolve a dispute with the bloc over its values ​​and the rule of law.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki met with French President Emmanuel Macron as part of a diplomatic effort to rally support for a harsh response to what EU Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen called an attempt by Belarus to use migrants to destabilize the EU. . Read more

While reaffirming his solidarity with Poland, Macron reiterated his concern over the rule of law and “called on the Polish government to find a solution that protects the EU’s core values”, his office said.

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With thousands of people fleeing the Middle East and other hotspots stranded on the EU’s eastern border, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia are at the forefront of what the EU is saying is a crisis developed by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

He has denied EU allegations that Belarus flew migrants into the country and then pushed them across EU borders.

At the same time, Brussels is embroiled in a protracted dispute with Warsaw’s ruling nationalists over the independence of the Polish judiciary, freedom of the press and LGBT rights.

The dispute came to a head in October, when a Polish court ruling questioned the supremacy of EU law, which in Brussels was seen as a challenge to the bloc’s unity and raised fears that Poland might eventually leave the country.

Morawiecki is due to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her potential successor Olaf Scholz and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday.

“The Prime Minister is now talking to EU leaders, starting with Paris, President Macron, to maintain unity in the EU … and be prepared for further action,” Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz told Reuters.

UKRAINE BOR

Warsaw says that while the number of migrants at the border has dropped, repeated border crossing attempts showed that Minsk had not given up plans to use migrants as weapons.

Morawiecki said he was discussing a potential strengthening of sanctions against Belarus with Macron, whose office said he reaffirmed his desire to continue the pressure on Lukashenko.

The exiled opposition leader in Belarus, Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya, called on the EU to do more to isolate Lukashenko and ensure that the economic sanctions imposed in July remain strong.

“Let’s be firm,” she told the European Parliament in Strasbourg. “We must not let lobbyists block the necessary sanctions. Let us close all remaining loopholes.”

However, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a phone call to European Council President Charles Michel that EU plans to impose sanctions on Belarus were counterproductive, the Kremlin said on Wednesday. Read more

The EU hit Belarus with sanctions following Lukashenko’s violent repression of protests against his controversial re-election last year. Diplomats say the latest package of sanctions agreed in response to the border crisis was to be approved and adopted in early December with a work deadline of 2 December.

As the Polish border guard reported several attempts by migrants to force their way across the border, Warsaw’s concern, shared by its neighbors, is that the months-long tensions could escalate into a broader, regional conflict. Read more

Ukraine, which says it fears being drawn into the crisis and has accused Russia of gathering its troops nearby, said it had launched an operation to strengthen its border, including military exercises for anti-tank and airborne units. Read more

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told Reuters that the EU should clarify to Russia that there would be a high price to pay if it acted against Ukraine, and called on the bloc to quickly agree on how to deter Moscow. Read more

While the international community accuses Lukashenko of orchestrating the crisis, human rights activists say Poland has contributed to the suffering of migrants through its actions.

Human Rights Watch said in a report on Wednesday that Poland shared responsibility with Belarus for the harsh conditions.

The cited case of migrants who are separated from family members who have been admitted for medical treatment or who came across the border only to be pushed back without being able to apply for asylum.

“Men, women and children have been ping-ponged across the border for days or weeks in freezing weather, and desperately need humanitarian aid being blocked on both sides,” Lydia Gall, senior researcher for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch. said in a statement.

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Reporting by Richard Lough, John Irish and Sudip Kar-Gupta in Paris, Alan Charlish and Pawel Florkiewicz in Warsaw, Robin Emmott in Brussels, Pavel Polityuk in Kiev, Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow and Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Author: Tomasz Janowski; Editing Alexander Smith / Mark Heinrich

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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