MINSK, Belarus (ChurchMilitant.com) - Belarus is quickly acquiring the reputation of being the latest bad boy in Europe.
European Union (EU) Commissioner Ylva Johansson claims Belarus is weaponizing the migrant crisis. The country, she says, under the leadership of President Alexander Lukashenko, is making huge profits by shipping migrants illegally to the Eastern Bloc — the former communist states in eastern and central Europe.
"He has tricked and invited people to come to Minsk [the capital city] and then they are driven to the border with promises that you can enter Germany. They're not refugees. Belarus is not under refugee pressure," Johansson said this week.
Johansson added that Belarus was charging migrants up to $23,200 to cross the border into the European Union.
Lukashenko is unhappy — some say desperate — about the sanctions imposed on his country by the European Union. In retaliation for the sanctions, the Belarusian president is pushing thousands of migrants into other European countries.
In early summer, Belarus was hit with sanctions for an escalation of human rights violations and a crackdown on journalists, including the detainment of Raman Pratasevich. Pratasevich, a blogger, had been an outspoken critic of Lukashenko and was involved in civil disturbances following Belarus' disputed presidential election in 2020.
In addition, Lukashenko flexed his muscles, forcing a civilian plane owned by an EU company to perform an emergency landing in Minsk in May 2021. The flight carried more than 100 passengers, one of them Pratasevich, and was forced to land by a Belarusian military aircraft.
After the forced landing, the EU tightened the screws on Belarus.
It hit the landlocked country with wide-ranging economic sanctions that target the country's main export industries, including "petroleum products and potash, a salt used in fertilizer that is the country's main export," according to Reuters.
This came on the heels of existing sanctions, which were imposed in 2020 after Lukashenko was accused of "the intimidation and violent repression of peaceful protesters" and "opposition members" in response to a "fraudulent" election.
Poland, which shares a 250-mile border with Belarus, has been bearing the brunt of Lukashenko's machinations.
In response to Lukashenko's antics, the Polish Parliament recently approved building a wall to keep out the influx of migrants sent by its neighbor. It also passed a law allowing border police to turn away migrants seeking entry into their country.
Reportedly, several migrants have died of natural causes along the Polish-Belarusian border.
Earlier this month, Belarusian troops fired on Polish troops; there were no casualties.
The EU commissioner has expressed concern regarding escalating tensions because of the Belarus problem — tensions that are putting people's lives in danger.
According to the commissioner, the sanctions are hurting Belarus, and that means Lukashenko "is becoming increasingly desperate."
"His aim is to put so much pressure on the EU that there will be a discussion on whether sanctions should be eased. We should definitely not do that," Johansson added.
Lukashenko, in his turn, has accused the EU of wanting to start a third world war with its strangling sanctions on his country.
Lukashenko has been president of Belarus since 1994.