Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has “effectively blackmailed” Russian President Vladimir Putin in the migrant crisis, a Russian outlet reported Saturday.
Lukashenko told a Russian journalist that he has given up the issue of migrants from the former Soviet states coming into Russia, the Novaya Gazeta said, citing sources close to the Russian president.
Lukashenko told the Russian journalist, Dmitry Meysburg, during a conference that the border between the two countries was “so closed” that “there are no migrants coming through here,” the report said.
“They were using this issue of migrants as a tool for pressure, to justify the deportation of people, which is not only illegal but ridiculous. None of these people came here … nothing. They are real illegal migrants,” Lukashenko said, according to Novaya Gazeta.
Lukashenko added that although he had previously worked on a solution with the European Union to end the migration, the bloc “left behind” many countries in the former Soviet Union.
Lukashenko, who has governed Belarus since 1994, earlier this week used a floor of parliament to offer an alternative solution to halting migrant flows, effectively agreeing to a return to a pre-2010 border force by the Russian state.
The Kremlin declined to comment Saturday on the claims.
Sergei Karaganov, a Kremlin-linked political analyst told Bloomberg on Saturday that the Kremlin had initially been behind the migrant crisis.
“There were the [then] head of the FSB, Alexander Bortnikov, and [Vladimir] Putin who were pushing the migration control,” Karaganov said, referring to the predecessor of the FSB.
“Many in the (Kremlin) administration didn’t have an opinion because they were concerned that if the migration began to intensify, Russia could be flooded by foreigners and didn’t want it to happen, if they had the feeling this would be the end of Putin’s political career,” Karaganov added.
Putin has come under increasing pressure over the migrant crisis and calls to deport thousands of migrants in recent weeks.
The Russian leader on Friday warned Syrians fleeing from fighting in the country’s northwestern province of Idlib that they could be jailed by European governments if they returned home.
Some Russian officials have also said that migrants would not be safe in the country.
This latest report adds to a long-running crisis of the European Union cracking down on the flow of migrants from the region.
At least 65,000 migrants have been expelled to European Union countries from Russia’s border with Greece so far this year, according to Eurostat, the EU’s statistics agency.
Amid the crisis, EU governments have also been debating raising the age limit at which migrants can gain refugee status in European Union countries from 14 to 18 years old.
Russia and the EU are discussing the idea of lowering the age limit to 16 years old and a European Commission spokesperson said a working group had “appropriately examined the pros and cons” of the idea.
Lukashenko said last week that “Britain or the Netherlands or anyone else in Europe can kick us out” of the bloc, according to the Ukranian news outlet Vnukovo.
Poroshenko said last week the EU “if they want to leave, they should just do it.”
“If it’s their decision, they can do it, we have always respected their decision,” he said.
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