Latvian authorities brace for the biggest influx of migrants in recent years

The recent developments on the Polish-Belarusian border have forced Latvian State Border Guard and armed forces to consider a possible major influx of migrants and increasing migration pressure along Latvia’s eastern border, as reported by De Facto programme.
«We have yet to see any large groups of people along Latvia’s external borders. However, we cannot exclude the possibility of the regime in Belarus attempting something similar along the Lithuanian and our borders. The risk is high,» said vice-chief of Latvia’s State Border Guard Ivars Ruskulis.
There are up to 10 000 migrants currently remaining in Belarus
Two weeks ago thousands of migrants, allegedly led by Belarusian border guards, attempted to cross the Polish border at Kuźnica border control checkpoint. Failing to cross the border, the aggressive group decided to toss rocks at Polish border guards and armed forces. Polish authorities responded with flashbang grenades, tear gas and water cannons.
The migrants who reached the Polish border, similarly to the people outside Latvia’s and Lithuania’s border, were lured with false promises to enter the EU. Each paid several thousand euros for passage. Now these people are forced to stay in the cold in Belarusian woods.
Among the men and women there are also many children.
The State Border Guard notes that the situation on Latvia’s border is calm at the moment. The border guard prevent approximately 20 illegal border-crossing attempts every day. Four to seven people are let in every week for humanitarian purposes. Unlike it was in August, migrants no longer stay for long along the border area.
Although last week Belarus commenced repatriation of migrants, there are reports of several thousand migrants remaining in Latvia’s neighbouring country. «They don’t say how many people they have brought from risk countries. So estimates differ – from a couple of thousand staying on the Polish border to upwards of 10 000 that may still reside in Belarus,» Ruskulis told De Facto.
Military exercises near the border
Considering the increased tension on the Polish border, Latvia’s Ministry of Defence commenced military exercises in Latgale last week. This is a way to increase the presence of armed forces close to the border area.
«We do not want to create a precedent when a large contingent of armed forces appear near the border in a single day. But this is the best option. We reported the exercises on the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe,» explains state secretary to the Ministry of Defence Jānis Garisons.
The exact number of participating Latvian troops is kept a secret. Initially there were reports of three thousand troops. Foreign troops stationed in Latvia do not participate in exercises.
What about Lukashenko?
Experts claim the goal of the President of Belarus Aleksandr Lukashenko is deepening the migration crisis he has created, forcing the EU to lift sanctions and forcing western leaders to enter a dialogue on his terms. In reality, so far he has only caused the EU to impose more sanctions against him and his regime, De Facto reports.
Both Lukashenko and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin have had telephone conversations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
«It is hard to say if there is a plan and who might be behind it. Some political analysts and the Polish government believe it was all the plan of Kremlin. On the other hand, I believe many would agree that Putin is really good, putting to use the opportunities that appear,» says the head f Konrad Adenauer Fund’s Belarusian branch Jakob Volenstein.
De Facto journalists also say that Putin would definitely benefit if this artificial migrant crisis helps increase Russia’s military presence in Belarus. The Ministry of Defence mentions that the military component of this crisis escalates, which is indicated by the recent exercises of Russian airborne troops close to the border and the flights of strategic bombers several days in a row close to the border.