President Biden on Friday said the situation on the border between Belarus and Poland is of "great concern" -- as a growing number of migrants is leading to increased tensions in the region, and accusations that Belarus and Moscow are manufacturing a crisis.
"I think it’s of great concern," Biden told reporters. "We’ve communicated our concern to Russia, we’ve communicated our concern to Belarus. We think it’s a problem."
Biden spoke amid a rapidly escalating crisis in Europe, where thousands of migrants from the Middle East have gathered at the border between Poland and Belarus. Polish and European Union officials have accused Minsk of funneling migrants to the border to create a crisis in response to sanctions against Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko for his crackdown against dissent and an allegedly stolen 2020 election.
Poland has sent troops to its border and declared a state of emergency. Camps have set up at the border, along with the borders of Latvia and Lithuania, amid reports that there are tens of thousands more migrants on their way.
The New York Times reports that Belarus not only loosened visa rules for travel from Iraq, from where a significant number of the migrants have arrived, but also increased state-owned airline flights and have even given migrants directions, wire cutters and axes to get through border fencing.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met with President Biden at the White House this week and described a "hybrid attack" and a "cynical geopolitical powerplay."
"This is not a bilateral issue of Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Belarus," von der Leyen told reporters. "This is a challenge to the whole of the European Union. And this is not a migration crisis. This is the attempt of an authoritarian regime to try to destabilize its democratic neighbors. This will not succeed."
Meanwhile, experts have suspected coordination from Moscow as part of a strategy to increase tensions in the region and distract from Russian activities near Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government has sent nuclear-capable strategic bombers on training missions over Belarus on Thursday in a show of support.
"These are manufactured events through strategic manipulation over a long period of time to create the conditions in which opportunities to make it even more unstable arise," Michael Ryan, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Policy, told Fox News this week. "And some of the tools have proven to be very effective because they do create such an emotional response in Europe — migration being one of them."
Putin has specifically denied Russian involvement in the crisis at the Belarus-Poland border.
"I want everyone to know that we have nothing to do with it. Everyone is trying to impose any responsibility on us for any reason and for no reason at all," Putin said in excerpts released Saturday of an interview with state television.
Migration has been a sensitive topic in Europe since the 2015 Syrian migrant crisis, which saw masses of migrants flood into Europe -- creating political upheavals in a number of countries. So far, however, the crisis only appears to be uniting European leaders rather than dividing them, with E.U. officials visited Warsaw this week to express solidarity with Poland.
Meanwhile The Associated Press reported that Turkey has stopped selling airline tickets to Syrian, Iraqi and Yemeni nationals trying to get to Belarus after EU officials have pressured airlines to stop facilitating the travel.