This article was originally written for the “Good morning Europe” blog ( by Johannes Eber. We were given permission to publish this article on the European Liberals for Reform blog.

Will Lukashenko win his dreadful strategic game?

The pictures on the Polish-Belarusian border are oppressive. Border guards and Polish army soldiers face hundreds of people who want to cross the border into Poland. Between the groups: barbed wire fence. 

It is a huge misery for the people out there. And it is a misery entirely in the sense of the Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko.

Polish officials estimate that there are currently 3,000 to 4,000 migrants near the Belarusian border with Poland and a further 10,000 elsewhere in Belarus. Since August, more than 30,000 migrants have attempted to enter the country. 

It is quite evident that the migration movement from Belarus towards Poland is orchestrated by Lukashenko – in retaliation for Brussels’ support for Belarus’s opposition and sanctions against him and his top allies in the wake of a brutal crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrators following last year’s fraudulent presidential election.

Probably Lukashenko’s action is also an attempt to soften sanctions. 

Lukashenko has, in a way, a role model for this: President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In a 2016 deal, the EU provided some €6 billion in funds to Turkey to support the almost four million Syrian refugees in Turkey. In return, Turkey helped reduce the number of people coming into Greece via the Eastern Mediterranean migration route.

But the approach of the Belarusian dictator is different from that of Erdogan back then. While the Belarusian government is actively bringing refugees to Belarus in order to bring them from there to the Polish border, millions had fled the civil war in Syria to Turkey. By the way: Turkey has taken in three times as many Syrians as the whole EU.

Subsequently, instead of negotiating with Lukashenko, the EU is calling for new sanctions on Belarus. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said this week that the use “of migrants for political purposes is unacceptable”, adding that the EU would also look at how to sanction “third-country airlines” that bring migrants to Belarus.

I have doubts whether the EU can stick to the strategy of non-negotiation. Before the 2016 deal with the Erdogan government, there were initially fierce confessions that the EU would not allow itself to be put under pressure from Turkey. But the steady flow of refugees left the European Union with no other choice – or at least that’s how the governments of several EU member states saw it.

What if the number of migrants to the EU from Belarus will increase steadily? What if there will be a steady flow of new pictures and videos of Polish soldiers who use force to prevent people from crossing the border?

Then the European Union will possibly be increasingly open to blackmail by Lukashenko.

Lukashenko has the upper hand. 

  • His strategic options are numerous because he has no qualms about it, 
  • the “supply of people” is unlimited for the dictator, 
  • and since Lukashenkow’s image in the West is already devastated, the pictures on the Polish-Belarusian border primarily damage the EU’s image.  

So it cannot be ruled out that the EU will end up negotiating with the Belarusian government. Maybe not with Lukashenko directly, but with envoys, not in public, but in secret. I’m afraid the EU cannot even rely on that.

Perhaps, given these gloomy prospects, the better option would be to open the borders. If Lukashenko realises that he can’t hit the EU with his policy of human trafficking, maybe he’ll let go of it.

At least, if the European Union had established a working distribution system for refugees within their bloc, dealing with the current number of refugees would hardly be a problem. And the European Union would be less prone to blackmail.

Will Lukashenko win his dreadful strategic game?
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The opinions on this blog are of the authors themselves and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of ELfR.

Johannes Eber

Founder of the "Good morning Europe blog"

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