Liz Truss has told Vladimir Putin he must end the “shameful manufactured migrant crisis” being stoked at Europe’s eastern borders.
In her first public intervention since tensions erupted this week, the Foreign Secretary said the Kremlin had a “clear responsibility” to end Belarus’s attempt to use “desperate migrants as pawns” to destabilise the region.
Writing for The Telegraph, Ms Truss added that Britain would “not look away” while its European allies were forced to “bear the brunt” of a “carefully crafted crisis” designed to distract from a “litany of abhorrent acts and human rights violations” carried out by Alexander Lukashenko’s regime.
UK officials fear that the crisis at Poland’s border could soon reach closer to home, with many of the migrants seeking entry into Europe expected to travel through France in order to try to cross the Channel to reach Britain.
Ms Truss also urged the European Union to strengthen its ties with other like-minded countries and to reconsider its dependence on Russia for gas supplies by cancelling the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
Warning that the UK stood ready to act “robustly, decisively and relentlessly” to take on “malign actions, wherever they are in the world”, she added: “Russia has a clear responsibility here. They must press the Belarusian authorities to end the crisis and enter into dialogue.”
Her warning comes after British troops were on Friday deployed to help the Polish army strengthen its border with Belarus in response to waves of migrants being sent towards the country.
Mr Lukashenko, the Belarusian dictator, has been accused of manufacturing the crisis in retaliation for Europe imposing sanctions over his unprecedented crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in the country.
Tensions at the border have escalated this week after Russia dispatched paratroopers to the Belarusian side of the border, where hundreds of Syrians, Iraqis, Yemenis are attempting to cross.
Warsaw has responded by moving 15,000 troops to the frontier and erecting barbed wire fences, while the EU is also preparing to hit Belarus with a range of new sanctions.
In a further provocation, Mr Lukashenko on Saturday called on Russia to move its nuclear-capable missiles to the border with the EU, telling a Russian journalist: “I’ve been pestering your president: I really need those 500 kilometre-range missile systems.”
Poland has also accused Belarusian security services of giving tear gas and strobe lights to asylum seekers stuck at the border and encouraging them on to push through barricades.
Mr Putin has suggested Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, could now meet with Mr Lukashenko in the coming days. While any talks will aim to de-escalate the crisis, it will inevitably be seen in Moscow and Minsk as a propaganda coup.
There are also mounting fears that Russia could also be preparing to try to seize parts of Ukraine, in a repeat of the 2014 annexation of Crimea, amid reports that 90,000 troops are now stationed along its eastern frontier.
Pledging the UK’s support to Eastern Europe, Mr Truss writes said: “The United Kingdom will not look away. We will stand with our allies in the region, who are on the frontier of freedom.
“We are not just standing side by side with Poland as they bear the brunt of this shameful manufactured migrant crisis, but also others in the Visegrad Four – Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic – and our friends in the Baltics and Ukraine.”
However, she appealed to the EU to rethink its strategic approach to Russia, including by blocking the approval of Nord Stream 2, the 745-mile pipeline running from Russia’s Baltic shore to northeastern Germany.
The US and the UK have warned that the project risks making Europe more dependent on Russian gas and increasing leverage over Ukraine by cutting it out as a transit country.
“It risks undermining European security by allowing Russia to tighten its grip on those nations who rely on its gas, despite the pandemic reminding us about the importance of having diverse supply chains to avoid being strategically dependent on unreliable partners,” Ms Truss continued.
“At this critical time, we should be deepening our investment and trade ties with countries that follow the rules and allow free market economies to thrive. We cannot, and will not, ever give succour to those who want to undermine freedom and democracy.”