'Small team' of British troops deployed to Belarus border to support Polish forces amid growing migrant crisis

·2-min read

A "small team" of British troops have deployed to Poland's border with Belarus to support Polish forces amid a growing migrant crisis that Warsaw has blamed on pro-Russia Minsk.

Adding to the tense rift, Russian and Belarussian paratroopers are staging joint drills on the other side of the border as well as close to Lithuania.

The UK Ministry of Defence said the British military personnel would be looking at "how we can provide engineering support to address the ongoing situation at the Belarus border".

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Mariusz Blaszczak, Poland's defence minister, said the British troops had joined a reconnaissance mission to explore how to strengthen a fence at the border.

Sky News understands that the service personnel arrived on Thursday and are due to head to the Polish-Belarus border.

Tensions are also growing between NATO allies and Russia-backed Belarus.

The Polish government has accused Minsk of flying in migrants from the Middle East and bussing them to the borders with Poland and Lithuania in a bid to destabilise the European Union.

Belarus denies the allegations but says it will no longer stop refugees and migrants from trying to enter the EU.

NATO said on Friday it is looking out for any escalation in the situation on its eastern flank.

"We will remain vigilant against the risk of further escalation and provocation by Belarus at its borders with Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia, and will continue to monitor the implications for the security of the alliance," the North Atlantic Council, representing the alliance's 30 member states, said in a statement.

"NATO allies call on Belarus to cease these actions, to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, and to abide by international law."

The Russian Defence Ministry said that as part of joint war games, Russian troops will parachute from Il-76 transport planes in Belarus's Grodno region, which borders Poland.

The Belarusian military said the exercise involving a battalion of Russian paratroopers was intended to test the readiness of the allies' rapid response forces due to an "increase of military activities near the Belarusian border".

It said that as part of the drills, which will also involve Belarusian air defence assets, helicopter gunships and other forces, troops will practise targeting enemy scouts and illegal armed formations, along with other tasks.

Earlier this week, Moscow sent its nuclear-capable strategic bombers on patrol missions over Belarus for two days.

Russia's deputy UN ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, told reporters at UN headquarters in New York that the flights came in response to a massive build-up of Polish forces on the Polish-Belarusian border.

Russia has strongly supported Belarus amid a tense stand-off this week as thousands of migrants and refugees, most from the Middle East, gathered on the Belarusian side of the border with Poland in the hope of crossing into western Europe.

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