By Agnes Szucs
BRUSSELS (AA) – With thousands of Iraqis denied entry into the European Union, the “autocratic” Belarusian regime’s attempts to destabilize the EU have “completely failed,” the bloc’s top official said on Wednesday.
“In just a month, no more than 3,500 migrants have been returned safely from Belarus to Iraq,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said at a European Parliament’s plenary session in Strasbourg, France.
The EU blames Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko for orchestrating an ongoing crisis that has seen thousands of asylum seekers stranded since last month in the border zone between Belarus and its EU neighbors Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.
It accuses Belarus of launching a hybrid attack as revenge for EU sanctions by inviting “tourists” from countries that are the main sources of migration to the bloc.
“The autocratic (Lukashenko) regime’s attempt to destabilize our member states has completely failed because our union reacted robustly and with great solidarity and unity,” von der Leyen asserted.
The EU has ramped up sanctions targeting high-ranking Belarusian officials and tourism companies, including national flag carrier Belavia, bringing the total number of backlisted individuals and entities to 183 and 26, respectively.
In addition, the bloc also agreed with countries of origin and transit, as well as air operators, to stop flights to Belarus and take back their citizens.
- Warning to Russia
Von der Leyen said the orchestrated border crisis ties into a broader bid to destabilize democracy in the EU and its neighbors, which includes actions such as Russia’s massive military buildup in and around Ukraine and threat to cut gas supply to Moldova.
The top EU official warned Moscow that the bloc is ready to employ “unprecedented measures with serious consequences” if it attacks Ukraine.
“Our response to any further aggression may take the form of a robust scaling up and expansion of existing sanctions,” she said.
“We are ready to take additional unprecedented measures with serious consequences for Russia.”
Von der Leyen called on Moscow “to de-escalate, to pursue diplomatic channels and to abide by its international commitments.”
Senior EU officials have repeatedly voiced support for Kyiv over recent months as Moscow moves thousands of troops toward Ukraine for the second time this year.
The EU has been applying restrictive measures since the Ukrainian crisis of 2014 that saw Moscow lend support to separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, a policy it has maintained in the past seven years.
The bloc accuses Russia of not fully implementing the Minsk agreements meant to establish peace in eastern Ukraine.
Currently, 188 people and 48 entities are on the bloc’s blacklist for violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, along with separate economic sanctions on the Russian finance, energy and defense sectors.
On Monday, the EU blacklisted Russian paramilitary company Wagner Group for human rights violations and intervening in conflicts around the world, including Ukraine.