Biden, Von der Leyen close ranks on Belarus, promise sanctions

By Lucia Leal

Washington, Nov 10 (EFE).- President Joe Biden and the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, closed ranks on Wednesday against Belarus and promised to impose sanctions on Minsk over the migrant crisis on that country’s border with Poland.

At a White House meeting, Biden and Von der Leyen spoke about the arrival of thousands of undocumented immigrants accompanied by members of the Belarusian security forces on the Polish border, where border guards prevented the migrants from entering Polish territory.

The EC president told reporters after the meeting that she and Biden fully share the conclusion that the actions by the autocratic regime in Minsk are a “hybrid attack” to try and destabilize neighboring democratic governments, adding that it will not succeed.

Von der Leyen announced that the European Union will expand its sanctions against Belarus, saying that “Very rapidly at the beginning of next week there will be a widening of the sanctions against Belarus.”

She added that, according to information that she received from the White House, the US also plans to sanction Minsk for what is occurring and its measures against Belarus will go into effect at the beginning of December.

Specifically, Biden and Von der Leyen agreed to examine certain airlines, saying that “We will look into the possibility of sanctioning those airlines who facilitate human trafficking towards Minsk and then the EU-Belarus border.”

Biden made no remarks to the press either before or after the meeting and, so far, the US administration has not officially commented on the crisis between Belarus and Poland and the EU.

Nevertheless, Von der Leyen said that the US leader is of the same mind as the 27 members of the EU, adding that she and Biden had agreed to coordinate their contacts with the countries of origin of the migrants, most of whom are Kurds from Syria and Iraq.

In those contacts, Von der Leyen said it was necessary to ask those countries to take care of their citizens so that they do not fall into the “trap” set for them by the Aleksandr Lukashenko regime in Belarus.

She also emphasized that the United Nations agencies must be given access to the migrants in Belarus, where thousands of them have no shelter, no heating and no food in winter conditions.

The refugees are in no-man’s-land, given that Poland approved measures allowing the expulsion by force of illegal immigrants, while Belarus has revoked its agreement with the EU and is not allowing them to return to Minsk.

Von der Leyen denied, however, that what is happening is any kind of “migration crisis,” describing it as an attempt by Belarus to exploit the situation of the migrants to destabilize the EU countries.

While Biden and Von der Leyen were meeting in Washington, the foreign minister of Russia and Belarus were meeting in Moscow and showing a united front regarding the crisis, at the same time that the Kremlin was denying being behind the arrival of the thousands of irregular migrants at the Polish border.

In his meeting with the EC president, Biden also placed on the table the situation on Russia’s border with Ukraine, where, Kyiv says, almost 90,000 Russian troops have been massed.

The top EC official said that she and Biden “completely support” the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

The pair also spoke about contacts between the EC and the United Kingdom to resolve the difficulties created by the Northern Ireland Protocol, the mechanism included in the Brexit agreement to keep the border open between the two portions of Ireland, as the 1998 peace accords require.

Von der Leyen said that the EU is prepared to show the “maximum flexibility,” but it is important to adhere to what has been agreed, a reference to the threat by London to unilaterally suspend portions of the protocol.

Biden and Von der Leyen also spoke about the recently approved US infrastructure law and the EU plans in that area, as well as about the coronavirus pandemic and how to “vaccinate 70 percent of the world population by (the end of) next year,” the EC president said.

The meeting came just a few days after the US and the EU announced, at the G20 summit in Rome, an agreement to mutually suspend tariffs imposed during the 2017-2021 Donald Trump administration.

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