Around 100 British military engineers are expected to provide practical support to help Poland tighten its eastern border with Belarus, where thousands of migrants had tried to cross in often freezing temperatures.
The plan was confirmed by Defense Secretary Ben Wallace during a visit to Warsaw, in which he said Belarus was making a “conscious attempt” to destabilize Poland and all of Europe by encouraging migrants at the border.
“The best way to respond is to work together hand in hand, not only within NATO, but simply as good friends and partners,” Wallace said, and accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of d ‘a “disgusting attempt to use people as a weapon”.
A small team of British soldiers made a study visit on Thursday and are making detailed plans to strengthen the border fence, which has been repeatedly violated by migrants from the Middle East, desperate to reach the EU. Once plans are finalized, work is expected to start later this month, Poland said.
The minister was speaking at a press conference with his counterpart Mariusz BÅaszczak, who said that “the support of British soldiers” would help to ensure that “no one who tries to cross the border illegally will be able to do so”.
Belarus appeared to be trying to ease political tensions by dismantling its hastily constructed migrant camps at the border, although doing so could prompt those previously there to disperse homeless. Thirteen people have already died during the crisis, mostly from exposure, including a one-year-old Syrian boy whose family had made it to Poland.
Aid agencies have slammed the UK for focusing on border security rather than providing humanitarian aid, in a deal that also cements ties between two countries that have been involved in their own disputes with the EU .
Poland has also refused to accept help from Frontex, the EU’s own border agency, preferring to declare a state of emergency and reach a broader military agreement to better protect itself against its eastern neighbors.
Warsaw has announced plans to purchase British-made missiles and jointly develop an air defense system to counter Russia. The deal is expected to be worth around Â£ 3 billion for UK-based manufacturers, including missile maker MBDA.
This is the second arms deal the UK has discussed in a week. On Tuesday it was confirmed that the UK will give Ukraine Â£ 1.7bn in loans so that Kiev can boost its naval capabilities in the Black Sea by buying two minesweepers from UK supplier Babcock, and build jointly a frigate and eight other missile-carrying ships.