In a world slowly but surely going mad, the standoff between Belarus and Poland allows us to understand how a deranged moment can bring countries to the brink of war.
The author of the unhinged action ~ one characterised by the European Union as a “gangster” approach ~ is Alexander Lukashenko, the dictator who rules Belarus and who has fashioned what he considers is a solution to Europe’s refugee crisis by allowing thousands of them into his country only to push them over the border into Poland.
Not surprisingly, the Poles are not amused and have massed troops on the border to prevent the influx. Quite apart from the mockery Lukashenko’s actions make of international law and conventions, they mark the monumental arrogance of a leader who lacks a credible political mandate and rules only by force. There is clearly some twisted logic at work here.
Lukashenko is smarting under sanctions imposed by the EU on Belarus. These sanctions were imposed for human rights abuses, for stifling dissent with force and not in the least for Belarus’ hijack of a Ryanair commercial flight last May to detain a critical journalist.
The sanctions are economic and indicate the desire of a bloc of countries to reduce ~ if not shun ~ contact with one in their midst who fails to meet the standards they claim to have set for themselves. While sanctions per se may well seem sanctimonious and often are, Lukashenko’s response to them is extremely provocative.
He has chosen to all but invite victims of conflict in the Middle East into Belarus, rounded them up and transported them to the border with Poland with the promise of a life in Europe. That the well-being of these hapless refugees is not a priority for Lukashenko is clear from the fact that the actions have been taken at a time winter has the region in its fierce grip, and the temperature on the border had reached zero on Wednesday morning.
Both Belarus and Poland have their finger on the trigger, and with at least one side having a record of intemperate conduct, Europe clearly is looking at a crisis that could so easily degenerate. After all, wars have been fought on the continent for smaller provocations and have then tended to engulf the world.
The EU and its allies, especially the Western ones, may well cry themselves hoarse over Lukashenko’s provocations and term his approach inhuman and gangster-like. But the fact is that for as long as he enjoys the support of Russian President Vladimir Putin, as autocratic a leader as him, he clearly believes he can get away with his actions.
Lukashenko has confirmed he is in touch with Putin over the developing crisis, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has advised the EU to provide funds to Belarus to encourage it to stop people crossing over into the bloc. Clearly, Lukashenko isn’t the only gangster on the scene.