Russia sends nuclear bombers to Belarus as thousands of migrants mass at EU border

11 November 2021, 16:10 | Updated: 11 November 2021, 17:50

Russian nuclear bombers overflew Belarus, which is accused of pushing thousands of migrants to the EU frontier
Russian nuclear bombers overflew Belarus, which is accused of pushing thousands of migrants to the EU frontier. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

A pair of Russian nuclear bombers flew over Belarus after the Eastern European nation was accused of encouraging thousands of migrants to illegally get into the EU.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

Vladimir Putin is a key supporter of his authoritarian counterpart in Minsk, Alexander Lukashenko, who the European Union says has launched a "hybrid attack" by prompting crossings over the Polish border.

The bloc has accused Belarus of "trafficking" human lives, luring desperate migrants to Poland's border, which doubles as the EU's frontier, in the hope they can carry on to Western Europe.

Belarus denies claims against it.

Read more: Belarus accused of sending 1,000 migrants into the EU 'in retaliation'

An estimated 3-4,000 people, largely from the Middle East, are thought to have moved themselves there in freezing weather, some setting up large makeshift camps.

The migrants, many of which have been pushed into a forested area with swamps and bogs, include children. Eight deaths have been confirmed as temperatures continue to plummet.

In response, Poland has beefed up its security, declared a state of emergency along the border, and tweeted footage of migrants using shovels and wire cutters to break through the frontier fence.

The construction of a wall or similar type of barrier has been discussed within the bloc, it was claimed, though such plans have faced opposition in the past.

The Belarusian defence ministry said a pair of Russian Tu-160 nuclear-capable strategic bombers practised attacks on a firing range, with Minsk's fighter jets simulating intercepting them.

It was the second time in two days that nuclear-capable bombers were dispatched to the country, with Russia sending two Tu-22M3 long range planes in a similar exercise on Wednesday.

It is suspected Belarus's actions are a retaliation for the EU's sanctions against Lukashenko's regime, which followed a crackdown on internal dissidents opposed to the government's re-election last year. That contest was considered by many in the international community to have been rigged.

Although Minsk has denied accusations it is trafficking migrants to Poland's border, it has said it will end attempts to stop them.

Instead, it has decried Poland's build up of security forces to handle crossing attempts as an "unprecedented" military build up, claiming the operation did not warrant 15,000 troops supported by tanks and air defence systems.

The Belarusian defence ministry said it looked "more like forming a strike group" and said the massing had prompted a response with actions from its ally Russia.

Outgoing German chancellor Angela Merkel has encouraged Mr Putin to "exert his influence" on Mr Lukashenko.