The Belarusian Gambit

Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus’s autocratic leader, is causing a humanitarian crisis on the Belarus-Poland border that appears to be retaliation for sanctions imposed by the European Union on his country this spring. Lukashenko’s regime faced international backlash for forcefully suppressing demonstrations following disputed elections last year. After months of deliberation, the EU imposed sanctions on the country. In response and in a move that has been branded the “weaponization of migrants,” the Belarusian government has pushed thousands of refugees to the country’s western border. Soldiers have forced the refugees to attempt to cross the borders of the NATO-member Baltic states and Poland, where violence has broken out. Much of the tension lies on the border between Belarus and Poland, where soldiers have fired warning shots at refugees and deployed water cannons to control crowds.

Poland is a complicated actor in this crisis. Since 2015, it has been criticized by both the EU and NATO for refusing to accept refugees. However, it has not changed its anti-refugee stance in recent weeks, escalating the humanitarian crisis on the border with Belarus. Each day, more soldiers and refugees arrive at the border, increasing the danger that a tense situation spirals out of control. NATO has called on Belarus to cease its current actions, but with Russia supporting Belarus’s position, the outcome is far from clear. 

Questions and Background

  • NATO’s collective defense clause stipulates that an attack on one nation is an attack on all. Should NATO get involved if war breaks out between Belarus and Poland?
  • Russian soldiers are mobilizing on the Ukrainian border for the second time this year. Is Putin using the refugee crisis as a distraction for his interests in Ukraine, or is this saber-rattling?
  • What is the U.S. interest in this crisis in eastern Europe?
  • With increasing concerns over Beijing’s threat in Taiwan, how does Washington safely redirect its focus to eastern Europe?

A Dictator Is Exploiting These Human Beings 
Anne Applebaum. The Atlantic. November 13, 2021.  

Containment Beyond the Cold War
M. E. Sarotte. Foreign Affairs. November/December 2021. 

Escalating Risks on Europe’s Eastern Frontier
Daniel Fried. Just Security. November 15, 2021. 

Who Is Aleksandr G. Lukashenko? Here’s What You Need to Know.
Dan Bilefsky and Andrew Higgins. The New York Times. November 11, 2021. 

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