Remarks to the Press by Chargé d’Affaires of the Permanent Mission of Russia to the UN Dmitry Polyanskiy before the UNSC consultations
Greetings, everyone. The reason I asked you to come is that I really wanted to comment on the initiative by our European friends to raise the issue of the migrant crisis on the Poland-Belarus border. Frankly, I begin to suspect that perhaps our Estonian, French and other colleagues might have some kind of masochist tendencies, because otherwise raising this issue which the EU handles with such disgrace would be far too bold. We have a lot of questions and I will, of course, raise these questions with our colleagues. I hope that if they come to the stakeout, you will address your questions to them as well. They are trying to push the narrative that Belarus is responsible for this crisis and that Belarus is using migrants as a weapon of war.
I am not the representative of Belarus, I represent Russia. Nevertheless, we are well aware of what is currently happening on the border. Indeed, the situation is very concerning. There are people who came to Belarus legally and now they want to enter the EU countries, primarily Germany. These migrants are not allowed to cross the border. Instead, they are pushed back from the border, persecuted and beaten. There have been many instances when Polish and Lithuanian border guards beat migrants and push them back into Belarus.
I can say that it is a total disgrace and a flagrant violation of all international conventions and rules. We have also heard some disturbing news. Today, there was a story on Euronews that Lithuania’s Interior Ministry ordered a unit of snipers to be deployed to the area to help European authorities tackle the migrant crisis. It is not easy to comment on things like that because it looks like they are trying to hunt these people down instead of trying to negotiate a solution to this crisis.
Why did this crisis happen in the first place? Migrants come to Belarus all the time. It is not like there was a sudden inflow of refugees to the border. However, until the summer of this year, there was a readmission agreement between Belarus and the EU, but it was scrapped after the EU imposed a new package of sanctions on Belarus. The agreement was no longer economically feasible. Moreover, there was no political motivation for Belarus to stick to it. This is what happened back in summer. These people arrived to Belarus legally and they have valid visas and hotel bookings. There is no legitimate reason for Belarus to send these people back to their countries of origin. That would be a blatant violation of all international conventions. Now the EU is trying to play the blame game. They want to portray Belarus and even Russia as the perpetrators of this crisis.
We have grown used to the fact that European and Western politicians like to use the slogan ”Keep Calm and Blame Russia”. This is not something new. However, the facts are very stubborn things and they do not corroborate our Western colleagues’ explanation of the crisis. And what is the solution? The solution can, as always, be found through dialogue. It is not the first time that the EU is faced with such a crisis. One should be mindful of the reason why these people are fleeing their home countries, who was responsible for this crisis and what countries destroyed these people’s homeland.
When a similar crisis happened in the Mediterranean several years ago, the EU’s position was drastically different from its current stance. Evidently, we are talking about double standards here. Belarus is engaged in dialogue with the UN. Belarus is totally transparent. Journalists, NGOs or any other entities can have unhindered access to the areas where migrants are stationed, they can distribute humanitarian aid. Any UN agencies or other bodies can easily access this area. However, NGOs, journalists and volunteers are barred from entering the areas where 12,000 or even, according to some estimates, 15,000 armed Polish guards are stationed.
The same thing applies to Lithuania. In no way is it transparent. I know that the situation is criticized within the EU, but this is their family matter. To cut it short, I would like to encourage you to pose all these questions to our Western colleagues when they come here. They will place the blame for this crisis on Belarus and Russia and demand for our countries to be punished for it. You know how these things go better than I do.
Q: Regarding what you referred to as crisis on the border: do you think the UNSC needs to take any action in this regard? And my second question: as you mentioned, your Western colleagues, most of them, call it a “manufactured” crisis. They say it has nothing to do or not much to do with the migrants, but it has a lot to do with the sanctions and other politics with Belarus and possibly with Russia, in a way. How do you assess that? What is your response to that?
A: No one can answer your question about the allegedly “manufactured” crisis better than the refugees. I saw several reports of German TV from the area where people who managed to cross from Poland into Germany are stationed now. They told their stories and said that it was their decision to go. Nobody pushed them. They had legitimate grounds to go to Belarus as it has a visa-free regime with some countries.
Therefore, any person can buy a ticket and go to Minsk or any other city and stay there legally. Nobody is asking these people whether their final destination is the EU. Belarus is not supposed to ask such questions. If you speak to the refugees, you will learn the answer to your question.
There is division of labor within the UN and not all issues should be tackled by the UNSC. My personal opinion is that this whole thing is a disgrace. When our European friends raise issues like this, they only expose their double standards and their faulty tackling of this crisis. But it is up to them to do so. I do not know whether they are masochists or not. I am sorry to bring this up again, but I really begin to suspect they are.
Belarus is in contact with international organizations that deal with migration issues, with relevant UN agencies and there are no problems in their communication. We think this is how the crisis should be dealt with, unless someone wants to politicize it and use it to achieve their political goals. In any case, that is not our intention.
Q: Just to clarify: Russia and Belarus are not in any way helping these migrants move to the Polish border?
A: What do you mean by “helping”? Transporting them to the border, you mean? No, absolutely not.
Q: Some concerns have been raised by some countries about a build-up of Russian military on the border with Ukraine. Is Russia planning to invade Ukraine?
A: We have never planned any such thing and we never will. Unless Ukraine or some other country stages a provocation. Then we will defend our national sovereignty as there are many threats coming from Ukraine. And do not forget that American warships are now in the Black Sea and their actions are highly provocative. Every day is difficult as we try to avoid any direct clashes in the Black Sea. We warned our American colleagues that their actions are pure provocation, but we have the right to deploy our troops wherever we see fit.
This is Russian territory, not Ukraine’s. I have mentioned it already, but if you read about the threats that Ukraine makes against Russia, against our territorial integrity, then you will understand why precaution is only logical in such a situation.
Q: Mr. Ambassador, if the aim is to try and de-escalate this, there were photos and reports of Russian fighter jets flying over Belarus and some people saw this as a provocative act and a warning. What was it?
A: People who see it this way should remember that it is a reaction to a massive build-up on Poland-Belarus border. We have our obligations as part of the Russia-Belarus union and within the CSTO. So if there is a military build-up on the Belarus border, we have to react. These are just reconnaissance flights. Nothing more than that. We are not breaking any rules. And that is why I cannot understand why this issue is being raised at all. Perhaps only to be used for political purposes.There is nothing extraordinary about these flights.
Have a good day.