The EU has accused Belarus’s President Alexander Lukashenko of luring migrants from the Middle East to his country only to send them across the border, in retaliation for European sanctions. Minsk denies the claim.
The European Union governments have partially suspended a visa facilitation deal for Belarusian officials.
Tuesday’s move was in response to a “hybrid attack” that Brussels says Minsk is waging by pushing migrants across its borders with Poland and Lithuania.
The EU accuses Belarus of encouraging migrants from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa to cross the border into the bloc in revenge for sanctions slapped on Minsk over human rights abuses.
“This decision is a response to the ongoing hybrid attack launched by the Belarusian regime,” said the statement from the EU Council, which represents the bloc’s member states.
It said the move would affect Belarusian officials, and not complicate existing visa procedures for ordinary citizens.
Lukashenko remains defiant
Meanwhile, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has said he did not want an armed confrontation but “will not kneel” in a stand-off over migrants on the border with Poland.
“We are not seeking a fight,” he said on Tuesday, warning that any conflict would draw in Belarus’s ally Russia.
“I am not a madman, I understand perfectly well where it can lead … We understand, we know our place. But we will not kneel,” Lukashenko said in an interview.
The 27-member union has imposed sanctions against 166 individuals and 15 entities from Belarus over human rights violations related to a crackdown on protests against the August 2020 rigged elections.
Thousands of migrants were camped out near the Belarusian border with Poland in freezing overnight temperatures, as Polish authorities braced on Tuesday for further clashes with people attempting to breach the frontier.
Some used logs, spades and other tools on Monday to try to break down a border fence, escalating the months-long crisis.