Merkel Urges EU Unity On Russia As Pressure Mounts Around Ukraine, Belarus

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki (left) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel address a joint press conference after talks in Berlin on November 25.  

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that the European Union needs to be ready to increase sanctions against Russia if the situation worsens near either the Ukrainian border or the Belarus-Poland border.

European and U.S. officials blame Moscow for stoking and supporting Belarus’s "hybrid" campaign to spark a migrant crisis at its border with the EU and warn of Russian troop buildups near Ukraine, where Moscow-backed separatists are in their eighth year of a war against the central authorities.

Merkel was speaking at a meeting in Berlin with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, where the two discussed the acute crisis as thousands of third-country migrants camp out on EU member Poland’s border with Belarus in hopes of reaching the European Union.

Merkel said she thinks Poland is "doing everything possible" to avoid any further escalation on its border, where hundreds of migrants were reportedly forced back after Belarusian security troops helped breach a border fence earlier on November 25.

Merkel, who will soon give way to successor Olaf Scholz, expressed Germany’s "full solidarity" with Warsaw as it confronts the border crisis.

The Belarusian Defense Ministry repeated on November 25 that Belarusian and Russian air forces were jointly patrolling the country’s western border, cooperation that began last week.

Morawiecki said Poland would not give in to "political blackmail" regarding the border crisis and said the EU must prepare additional sanctions targeting Belarus, including on trade.

He said his country was "protecting" Germany and the entire EU from a major wave of migrants.

Merkel also issued a warning on the situation in western Russia and Ukraine, where reports for weeks have suggested a Russian troop buildup is under way.

Merkel said de-escalation was always the preferred option but added, "Any further aggression against the sovereignty of Ukraine would carry a high price."

Russia this week launched military drills in the Black Sea, south of Ukraine, saying it needed to sharpen the combat-readiness of its conventional and nuclear forces because of what Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu called "the growing activity of NATO countries near Russia’s borders."

Meanwhile, Ukraine launched its own exercises near its northern border to increase preparedness for a potential spillover of the Poland-Belarus border situation.

U.S. President Joe Biden on November 24 reiterated "unwavering support" for Kyiv as reports suggested there was a debate over possibly boosting weapons supplies to Ukraine.

Moscow has called allegations of a buildup near its border with Ukraine "groundless."

Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014, and has been backing separatists in eastern Ukraine in an ongoing conflict that has claimed more than 13,200 lives since April 2014.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

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