Today, Belarusian authorities cleared the largest migrant camps along its border with Poland. The intentions of the Minsk government are unclear at present, but the move is seen as a positive step by some international observers, perhaps even marking the start of a de-escalation in the migrant crisis that has blossomed into a East-West confrontation. In another possible sign of de-escalation, hundreds of Iraqis who spent weeks camped at the border are in the process of flying home. The rest of the migrants at the border will be moved to a processing center. Whether the move is permanent or not remains to be seen. For the short term though, the migrants will have shelter from the freezing temperatures and less-than-hospitable conditions on the border. As the migrant camps were being cleared, Polish security forces repelled a coordinated effort by a group of Middle Eastern migrants to cross the border. This attempt was smaller than the one made two days ago at the Kuznica border crossing point. Nine Polish police officers were injured in the melee that developed then.
Earlier this week diplomatic activity aimed at ending the crisis was ramped up. German Chancellor Angela Merkel held two telephone conversations with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. French President Emmanuel Macron also discussed the crisis with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. It’s unclear if these talks are responsible for Thursday’s dismantling of the camps, but today Putin called on Lukashenko to begin a dialogue with the European leaders. Germany and the European Union have also rejected a Belarusian request to take in thousands of migrants and asylum seekers now in Belarus.
The British evacuation operations at Kabul Airport have come to a close today with the final departure of a flight carrying Afghan civilians. On the ground at the airport, the US is entering the final phase of its own operations before the 31 August withdrawal date. US commanders continue to stress that the probability of another attack on the airport remains considerable following a limited number of US drone strikes that have killed a handful of high-profile ISIS-K members. As of 1430 hours, Eastern time today, over 117,000 people have been evacuated from the country. Of this number, 5,400 are American citizens. The number of US troops currently deployed to the airport is declining as well. There are now 4,000 troops on the ground there, down from a highwater mark of 5,800 reached earlier in the week.
Recent reports from Kabul seem to suggest the Taliban and Turkey are close to reaching an agreement on Kabul airport. Under the proposed agreement, Turkey and Qatar will operate Kabul Airport, with Turkey expected to provide security through a private firm employing mostly ex-Turkish troops. This move is similar to one Turkey executed during the Azerbaijan-Armenia war last year. In exchange for permission to assume responsibility for airport operations, Turkey is expected to formally recognize the Taliban government. This will make Turkey the first nation to extend diplomatic recognition to the Taliban.
In Afghanistan, the Afghan State Bank has ordered all banks to open under an emergency framework intended to solve the liquidity crisis. The long term fate of Afghani banks remains up in the air, however. The Taliban is unlikely to allow interest-based banks to operate as they have been doing for some time. A Sharia-compliant banking system will have to be designed to replace the traditional banking system now in place. The Taliban government has made it clear it wants monetary affairs to be governed by the Sharia laws.
Leaders of the G7 nations are set to meet today via video conference to discuss the tumult in Afghanistan and the challenges facing the West now with that nation under Taliban control. According to sources, one goal of the conference will be to reach a consensus on the matter of whether to recognize the Taliban government or apply sanctions on it. Yet the most crucial matter to be discussed will be the upcoming 31 August deadline that had been set by the United States for the withdrawal of military forces. France, Germany and Great Britain have publicly talked about a need to extend that deadline in order to make certain an orderly exit from Afghanistan occurs. These nations are already applying pressure on the Biden administration on the matter and is expected to continue in the upcoming conference. The Taliban consider the withdrawal date to be a red line and have warned against the prospect of the US extending the deadline. Still, the Biden administration is in talks behind the scenes with the Taliban. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has said the administration is “engaging with the Taliban, consulting with the Taliban on every aspect of what’s happening in Kabul right now.”
The Taliban hasn’t been amenable to the prospect of an extended deadline date and are warning of consequences if the West attempts to do so. “It’s a red line. President Biden announced that on Aug. 31 they would withdraw all their military forces. So if they extend it, that means they are extending occupation while there is no need for that,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said in an interview with Sky News.
This is where the carrot and stick approach might come in handy for the G7. They could extend an offer of recognition to the Taliban in exchange for extending the deadline and keeping Kabul’s airport open for evacuation flights. On the flip side there would be an implied threat of sanctions in the event the 31 August date remains inflexible.
6 June, 1944 is a sacred day in the History of the World. As we come to the 77th year since the Allied invasion of France, I’d like to humbly ask all of you to take a moment and observe the sacrifices made by thousands of US, Canadian and British troops on that day, as well as those of many others in the weeks to follow, to ensure the light of Freedom would not be forever extinguished.
It has been an active weekend and Monday with regards to Ukraine and the buildup of Russian military forces in close proximity to the border. Overall, it appears more people are beginning to take the threat of armed conflict there seriously. With the movement of Russian military forces continuing on with no end in sight, and diplomatic efforts to calm tensions not yet producing results, the situation in and around Ukraine remains volatile.
Senior advisors to the leaders of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia are holding meetings today in an effort to reduce tensions in eastern Ukraine and discuss a restoration of the ceasefire between Russian-supported separatists and Ukrainian forces. Another topic expected to be discussed will be laying the ground work for a summit intended to resolve the issues at the core of the crisis between Ukraine and Russia. Quite frankly, the subject matter of these meetings seem to make it clear that Germany and France are tip toeing around the heart of the matter: Russia’s military buildup and the Kremlin’s intentions.
The weakening health of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny is becoming a concern across Europe. As scrutiny on Navalny’s condition has intensified, he has been moved to a prison hospital. Navalny is now 20 days into a hunger strike that has weakened his health state, as have the conditions of his imprisonment. The situation has brought on international warnings that the Russian government will face consequences should Navalny die in prison. The Russian government said today it would retaliate against further sanctions and rejected foreign countries’ statements on the Navalny case. “The state of health of those convicted and jailed on Russian territory cannot and should not be a theme of their interest,” a government spokesperson said.
Great Britain will be sending warships to the Black Sea in May amid the rising tensions in the area. A pair of ships, one Type 45 destroyer and one Type 23 frigate, will detach from the Royal Navy’s carrier task force in the Mediterranean and head north through the Dardanelles and Bosphorus into the Black Sea. A timetable for the expected move has not been revealed in detail. The British move comes just a few days after the Biden administration cancelled the planned movement of two US destroyers into the Black Sea.