The European Union says it will tighten the rules for issuing visas to Belarusian state officials in retaliation for Minsk using migrants to destabilize the 27-member bloc.
The EU has accused Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka of orchestrating a sharp rise in migrant arrivals across Belarus's border with bloc members Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia in response to Brussels imposing sanctions on Minsk over a brutal crackdown on dissent following last year's presidential election, which is widely considered to have been rigged.
The European Commission -- the bloc's executive body -- said on September 29 that it wants member countries to consider suspending parts of a “visa-facilitation agreement” with Belarus that came into force in July 2020 and was meant to bring the former Soviet republic closer to Europe.
The measure, aimed at Belarusian officials including members of government, lawmakers, diplomatic delegations, and top court representatives, would increase travel bureaucracy by requiring extra documentation and would increase visa prices. It would not affect ordinary Belarusians.
Poland and Lithuania have been forced to cope with an unusually high number of migrants, primarily from Iraq and Afghanistan, arriving at their borders with Belarus. Warsaw has declared a state of emergency over the situation and aims to soon extend it for another 60 days.
Lukashenka has blamed the West for what he said was a looming humanitarian catastrophe this winter at the Belarusian-Polish border.
"We have an aggressive regime, Lukashenka, that is actually pushing migrants...to the European border to destabilize the European Union," the bloc's Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson told journalists on September 29. "This is an act of aggression."
The migrant influx began a year ago, after Brussels imposed sanctions on Lukashenka’s government over the August 2020 presidential election, which the international community views as rigged, and the harsh crackdown on the opposition and peaceful protesters that followed.
"What we are seeing now is a desperate Lukashenka," Johansson said. "This is a regime that has denied its own people free and fair elections. This is a regime that is putting political opposition in jail."
The visa move must be endorsed by the 27 EU member countries to enter force.