The Belarusian president has claimed “nuclear-armed” Russia would support him in a war, as it emerged 30 countries could be sending migrants to the European Union via Minsk.
lexander Lukashenko insisted he did not want armed confrontation but claimed his Russian allies could be drawn into the row over migrants on the border with Poland.
The warnings came as hundreds more people travelled to the frontier.
Poland sealed off part of its border, with 4,000 people already settled in a camp just across from the village of Kuznica.
“We aren’t bullying,” Mr Lukashenko said. “Because we know that if, God forbid, we make some mistake, if we stumble, it will immediately draw Russia into this whirlpool. And this is the largest nuclear power.”
His intervention came after the European Commission condemned him for acting like a “gangster” by using migrants as political pawns. Belarus has been accused of sending refugees to the EU’s border in an attempt to destabilise the bloc in retaliation for sanctions.
With tensions between the West and Moscow growing, the US reactivated a nuclear artillery unit, to be armed with long-range hypersonic weapons, for the first time since the Cold War.
In an initial response, the EU partially suspended a visa agreement with Belarus. “This is part of the inhuman and really gangster-style approach of the Lukashenko regime that he is lying to people, he is misusing people, misleading them and bringing them to Belarus under the false promise of having easy entry into the EU,” the Commission said.
Brussels also said it was pressing more than a dozen countries, including Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, to prevent people leaving for Belarus and monitoring flights from another 20 states across Africa, the Middle East and Asia. It has already successfully leant on Iraq to halt flights from Baghdad to Minsk.
With their path to the EU blocked, migrants were huddled around fires at an improvised camp on the Belarusian side last night. Warsaw estimated 1,500 people had tried to force their way across the border.
Russia has publicly called on the EU to pay Belarus to shoulder the burden for thousands of migrants waiting on the bloc’s border.
The Kremlin praised “responsible” Belarusian soldiers, who have been accused of transporting people to the Polish border in an “unprecedented” attack on the bloc.
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, compared the crisis to 2015-16 and urged the EU to help Belarus deal with the influx of migrants, as it did when it paid Turkey euros 6 billion (pounds 5.1 billion) to stem the flow of people from war-torn Syria and Iran.
He said: “During political discussions, some said, ‘when refugees came from Turkey, the EU allocated funding so that they could stay on the territory of the Turkish Republic – why is it impossible to help Belarusians as well?’.”
In another nod to the fears that surrounded the 2015-16 migrant crisis, Lithuania claimed dozens of migrants who had crossed from Belarus in recent months belonged to terrorist groups.
Its parliament voted to introduce a state of emergency on its border with Belarus, with an official warning: “Since July 2021, at least two dozen irregular crossers of the EU eastern border have been identified as members of radical terrorist groups.”
Mateusz Morawiecki, the Polish prime minister, accused Vladimir Putin of being behind the migrant surge.
“The latest attack by Lukashenko, who obeys the orders given by President Putin, shows the determination to rebuild the Russian empire. A scenario that we Poles must oppose with all our might,” Mr Morawiecki said.
Mariusz Kaminski, the interior minister, said: “There is no doubt that Lukashenko and his regime are doing what they are doing with the full approval of the Kremlin.”
Telegraph Media Group Limited