Poland has appealed to Nato to step in to resolve the migrant crisis on the Belarus border as thousands gather in freezing conditions.
The migrants have travelled to Belarus in the hope of crossing into the EU via Poland, only to find themselves trapped on the border.
The EU accuses Minsk of orchestrating the crisis to put pressure on the bloc over sanctions, but Belarus has repeatedly denied this. Some countries in the region fear the stand-off could escalate into a military conflict.
“It is not enough just for us to publicly express our concern – now we need concrete steps and the commitment of the entire alliance,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said.
He added that Poland was holding talks with Lithuania and Latvia over triggering Article 4 of Nato’s constitution, which says members can demand consultation with allies if their territorial integrity is threatened.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, a key backer of Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko, said yesterday Russia was ready to help resolve the crisis.
Western diplomats remain sceptical, especially with Russia visibly flexing its muscles in the region, moving an estimated 100,000 troops on to the Ukraine border.
Mr Morawiecki said EU leaders would discuss further sanctions against Belarus, including completely closing the border.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc would widen sanctions on Belarus today to include airlines and travel agencies thought to be involved in transporting migrants. In an interview, he said: “Lukashenko got it wrong. He thought that by acting in this way he would twist our arm and force us to cancel the sanctions.
“The opposite is happening.”
Mr Morawiecki said that the EU should jointly finance a border wall.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau at the weekend and said Belarus’ actions threatened regional security and distracted from Russian military activities on the Ukraine border, State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
“Secretary Blinken reaffirmed US support for Poland in the face of the Lukashenko regime’s cynical exploitation of vulnerable migrants,” Mr Price said.
Meanwhile, Polish forces described an increasingly tense situation on the frontier, with the Border Guard saying migrants were receiving instructions and equipment from Belarusian guards and it expected another “big attempt” to break through.
“Huge logs of wood are being brought in, probably to lower the fence,” Border Guard spokeswoman Katarzyna Zdanowicz said in a TV interview.
Belarusian blogging service NEXTA shared a video of what it said was a large column of migrants walking towards the frontier.
Footage posted on Twitter by the Polish Interior Ministry showed what appeared to be a water cannon deployed at the border, as a recorded message warned migrants that force could be used against them if they did not follow orders.
NGO Grupa Granica said it had been told there had been attempts by Belarus to force migrants to use violence against Polish officers.
“Due to the risk of escalation of violence we want to remind all parties that migrants are not aggressors but hostages of Lukashenko’s regime,” it wrote.
The Belarusian State Border Guard Committee spokesperson Anton Bychkovsky said the accusations were disinformation. “It does not correspond with the reality,” he said.
On Saturday, a group of about 50 migrants broke through defences on the border and entered Poland near the village of Starzyna. The Border Guard said they were all caught.