Migrants serve Lukashenka as hybrid “cannon fodder”
By Robert Strybel, Warsaw Correspondent
WARSAW–Poland’s eastern border has withstood an unprecedented assault by the regime of Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Since August, his minions have orchestrated daily provocations by bringing in planeloads of Third World “tourists,” busing them to the Polish border and urging them to illegally cross into Poland. The migrants, who had paid good money to human traffickers and Belarusian agencies, were told that Poland was the only obstacle separating them from affluent Germany.
Polish border forces on average had thwarted from 200 to 600 daily attempts to breach a razor-wire border fence, detaining most of those who made it through as well as human traffickers waiting to pick them up. But in early November Lukashenka’s “hybrid war” intensified to unprecedented heights. The first word that something strange was afoot coming from independent Belarusian journalist Tadeusz Giczan who noted that the groups of swarthy Middle Easterners milling about the capital Minsk had suddenly vanished.
Giczan soon posted on social media a video showing armed Belorussian guards escorting thousands of migrants down a highway leading to Poland’s border crossing at Kuźnica Białostocka. At a point near the crossing the migrants, some armed with axes, shovels, and wire-cutters, attempted to break through the border fence and force their way into Poland. Repeated attacks were repelled by a 12,000-strong force of Polish soldiers, backed up by police and border guards. Whenever the border fence was breached, a cordon of uniformed Polish servicemen appeared to bar any illegals from entering.
When the invaders saw the futility of their attack and tried to retreat, Belarusian guards fired shots into the air to scare them back to the border. The weaponization of migrants also included elements of psychological warfare. Footage broadcast by Polish Television showed a Belarusian blowing cigarette smoke into the eyes of a 10-year-old Iraqi boy to make his tears flow. A photo of him was immediately snapped to trigger outrage at the ordeal imposed by the “nasty Poles.” Belarusian handlers have instructed the migrants to look dirty, disheveled, and downtrodden and to highlight the plight of women and children to evoke public sympathy.
Although Polish services defending the border were bracing for a series of nocturnal forays, surprisingly none occurred. When dusk approached, the migrants retreated into the nearby forest where they set up makeshift camps. Drone videos showed groups of migrants huddling around campfires, preparing food, and bedding down in tents and sleeping bags. But no one believes that Lukashenka’s hybrid war has run out of steam. The Polish side insists it is ready to deal with any scenario that arises.
In the defense of its border, which is also the easternmost boundary of NATO and the European Union, Poland is backed by most of the international community. Less comforting is Lukashenka’s fifth-column-like ally right in Warsaw – the self-proclaimed liberal-left “total opposition” which rejects any dialogue or cooperation with the conservative government. Opposition leader Donald Tusk has described the migrants as “poor people looking for their place in the world,” and former Solidarity-era hero Władysław Frasyniuk has called the uniformed border defenders “śmiecie” (trash). Several weeks ago, one opposition member called on the border guards to “let those 30 poor people in, and their identities can be checked later.” With friends like Poland’s liberal left, who needs enemies?!