Soldiers sent to help Poland at border with Belarus

UK troops at border flashpoint: Soldiers sent to help Poland at border with Belarus as tensions in Eastern Europe threaten to spill over

  • British soldiers deployed to Belarus border yesterday 
  • Escalating migrant crisis triggered rapid military build up in region
  • Royal Engineers were deployed on reconaissance mission 

British soldiers were deployed to the Polish border with Belarus yesterday as tensions in Eastern Europe threatened to spill over.

The escalating migrant crisis at the edge of the EU triggered a rapid military build-up in the region, with Russian paratroopers touching down on the opposite side of the border.

The deployment of Royal Engineers on a reconnaissance mission came as a pair of Kremlin nuclear-capable bombers forced the RAF to defend British airspace.

Vladimir Putin was also warned against making a ‘serious mistake’ after America said satellite images of troops suggested Russia could be planning to invade Ukraine.

The small forward party of British soldiers, thought to number about ten, will help Polish forces strengthen their border with Belarus, where as many as 4,000 migrants, mainly from Iraq, Syria and Yemen, have gathered hoping to cross into Europe.

The escalating migrant crisis at the edge of the EU triggered a rapid military build-up in the region, with Russian paratroopers touching down on the opposite side of the border

Belarus started building camps yesterday to house those who have spent night after night sleeping in freezing forests with little food.

Katarzyna Zdanowicz, spokesman for Poland’s border guards in the eastern Podlasie region, said ‘The scale of the problem is not diminishing.’

She said Belarusian forces had brought wood and water to migrant camps on the border, adding: ‘We can see they are preparing for a longer stay.’

Belarus started building camps yesterday to house those who have spent night after night sleeping in freezing forests with little food

Another 15,000 migrants are thought to be in Belarus and heading for the border, having been brought in from the Middle East to flood into Europe by president Alexander Lukashenko in revenge for EU sanctions.

Moscow, a key Lukashenko ally, has been accused of helping to fuel the crisis.

As the Royal Engineers arrived in the region, hundreds of Russian paratroopers jumped from military aircraft into Belarus. They conducted tactical rehearsals 25 miles from the flashpoint at the border. The Russian defence ministry said the troops, two of whom died, flew home after the exercise, which was interpreted as a show of support for Lukashenko.

Another 15,000 migrants are thought to be in Belarus and heading for the border, having been brought in from the Middle East to flood into Europe by president Alexander Lukashenko in revenge for EU sanctions

Last night, Tory former defence minister Tobias Ellwood backed the Ministry of Defence’s demonstration of solidarity with Poland.

He said: ‘Nato states will need to act swiftly to stay ahead of the threat, while countries which share borders with Russia will require further support.

‘Any failure to do so would be interpreted as weak behaviour by President Putin.

‘He could absolutely invade Ukraine. It is a reflection of just how weak the West has become.’

America warned European leaders this week that Russia may be about to invade Ukraine, having annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea in 2014. The warning was based on satellite images showing tens of thousands of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Moscow would commit a ‘serious mistake’ if any of the 90,000 Russian troops positioned to march into Ukraine did so.

Last night, Tory former defence minister Tobias Ellwood backed the Ministry of Defence’s demonstration of solidarity with Poland

He assured Kiev this week that Washington’s commitment to Ukraine’s security was ‘iron-clad’.

He said yesterday: ‘We don’t know Russia’s intentions. But we do know that we’ve seen in the past – Russia mass forces on Ukraine’s borders, claim some kind of provocation by Ukraine, and then invade. That’s what they did in 2014.’

France urged Russia to use its ties with Belarus to bring the migrant crisis to an end, and warned that any Russian threat to Ukraine would have ‘serious consequences’. The EU expressed alarm at Russia’s activities by Ukraine’s border.

Belarus said it was ready to defend itself, accusing Poland of an ‘unprecedented’ military build-up on the border, with 15,000 troops and guards backed by tanks, air defences and other weapons. Defence minister Viktor Khrenin added: ‘Belarus armed forces are ready to respond harshly to any attacks.’

Turkey said yesterday that Iraqis, Syrians and Yemenis would no longer be allowed on flights to Belarus. Iraq also stopped direct journeys, and said it would repatriate Iraqis in Belarus. 

 RAF Typhoons intercept Russian bombers 

A pair of Russian nuclear bombers yesterday forced the RAF to defend British airspace over the North Sea.

Amid a heightening of tensions between East and West thanks to the escalating crisis on the Polish-Belarus border, two TU-160 ‘Blackjack’ strategic bombers, which are capable of launching cruise missiles, launched a menacing sortie.

The entered the Nato zone – for which the Netherlands is responsible – without warning the Dutch, Amsterdam’s defence ministry confirmed. Belgium and the Netherlands take turns to look after air defence in the area for Nato on behalf of the Benelux region, which also includes Luxembourg.

Belgian F-16s escorted the Russian aircraft out of the area towards a zone policed by Britain, where they were met by a pair of RAF Typhoons from the Quick Reaction Alert force at RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, north-east Scotland, along with a refuelling jet from Brize Norton, Oxfordshire. The TU-160s were then ‘deterred from entering UK aerial territory’, with the Russian pilots turning back and heading north. The RAF’s protection mission was completed by 2.30pm when all British aircraft returned to base, nearly three hours after take-off.

Last night, an RAF spokesperson confirmed that it scrambled the British Typhoons, which ‘intercepted and escorted two Russian TU-160 Blackjack, long-range strategic bomber aircraft’.

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