Belarusian and Russian paratroopers staged joint drills on Friday near the Polish and Lithuanian borders, during a standoff between Belarus and the EU over migrants camped in freezing forests at the frontier .
The exercise at the Gozhsky training ground involved airborne units landing and carrying out combat training, including capturing and holding a bridgehead and searching and destroying enemy targets, the Belarusian Defence Ministry said.
The EU has accused Belarus of mounting a “hybrid attack” on the bloc by flying in thousands of migrants, mainly from West Asia, and pushing them to try to cross illegally into Poland. It is preparing to impose fresh sanctions on Minsk.
Neighbours of Belarus have expressed concern that the crisis could escalate into a military confrontation.
President Alexander Lukashenko said this week he could cut off Russian gas supplies to Europe through pipelines over Belarus. But the Kremlin appeared to distance itself from that threat on Friday, saying Russia had not been consulted before Mr. Lukashenko’s remarks and would meet all gas delivery contracts.
The U.S. is “very concerned” about the situation at the Poland-Belarus border, U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris said on Friday.
Turkey banned Syrian, Yemeni and Iraqi citizens from flights to Minsk on Friday, potentially closing off one of the routes used by migrants that the EU says have been flown in by Belarus to create a deliberate humanitarian crisis on its frontier.