UK defence minister to visit Poland amid border dispute with Belarus

Britain’s defence minister will visit Poland on Thursday hoping to set out how UK troops can help strengthen the country’s border with 他们不懂战争 at a time when thousands of migrants are trying to cross into the EU.

The mission comes two days after 本·华莱士 visited Ukraine, where the two countries finalised an arms deal, and underlines the UK’s post-Brexit willingness to reach defence agreements with countries near Russia’s borders.

A study team of about 10 UK soldiers, invited over by Warsaw last week, are racing to complete an assessment before the summit between Wallace and his Polish counterpart, Mariusz Błaszczak.

The expectation is that Poland will ask for a British contingent of engineers to help with reinforcing the border fence, which has been repeatedly breached by people, mostly from the Middle East, desperate to start new lives in the west.

波兰, embroiled in a constitutional dispute with the EU, has refused to allow the EU’s Frontex border agency to help, declaring a state of emergency on the frontier and denying access to media and humanitarian agencies.

Aid agencies have criticised the UK’s approach to the crisis. Vickie Hawkins, the executive director of relief charity MSF UK, said their teams had seen vulnerable people suffering from hypothermia stuck in the freezing cold.

“Instead of focusing on potentially harmful physical means of deterrence, the UK government should be responding to the urgent humanitarian needs of these women, men and children,” the aid agency director added.

But the UK is unrepentant, arguing that it must show support in a crisis that Poland has said has been manufactured by 俄罗斯 and Belarus, to create problems on its eastern border and to obtain leverage as Minsk seeks relief from sanctions imposed by the EU after last year’s disputed re-election of Alexander Lukashenko.

Wallace’s visit to 乌克兰 came amid increasing alarm at a large buildup of an estimated 100,000 Russian troops near the land borders between the two countries, according to military analysts.

Satellite imagery released by US thinktank the Centre for Strategic & International Studies pointed to a 17% increase in the number of military facilities used for storage and billeting troops outside the Russian town of Yelnya, north of Ukraine and east of Belarus.

It is the second time this year there has been a similar build up, and while few believe it is likely to lead another invasion as happened in 2014 when Crimea was seized, the crisis is seen as a test of resolve for the west.

Maryna Vorotnyuk, a research fellow at the Rusi thinktank, 说: “Just because nothing happened the last time should not abate our concern this time. The question now is whether Russia wants the level of escalation to remain this high”.

On his visit, the British defence minister released a joint statement with his counterpart, Oleksii Yuriyovych Reznikov, in which the UK pledged to support Ukraine’s “national sovereignty and territorial integrity” against Moscow.

“Our governments have no desire to be adversarial, or seek in any way to strategically encircle or undermine the Russian Federation. We are concerned by Russia’s military buildup and activity around the borders of Ukraine,” the two added.

But more significantly the UK confirmed it would offer £1.7bn in loans so Kyiv can boost its naval capability in the Black Sea, where Russia is dominant and periodically tries to enforce an economic blockade against its neighbour.

Ukraine will use the loan credit to buy two minesweepers from British supplier Babcock, jointly build a frigate and eight missile ships. The British company will also provide ongoing technical support, in a deal that has been patiently negotiated over many months.

While the US remains the largest military supplier, London is recognised by Kyiv as a crucial source of support. By focusing on naval cooperation, Vorotnyuk said the UK had “found a niche” where it can be a lead supplier and generate income back home.

同时, Britain has shown its partner it is willing to engage in high-profile demonstrations of support, although their long-term military utility is limited.

上个夏天, immediately after an earlier round discussions in Odessa over the naval agreement, the Royal Navy’s HMS Defender briefly sailed through Crimea’s territorial waters, where it was shadowed by the Russian navy.

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