The Belarus border crisis is a new low – even for Putin
Analysis: Putin is using the proxies of Iraqi migrants travelling through Belarus to the promised land of rich EU countries.
Vladimir Putin has already proved himself a master of the dark arts of hybrid warfare.
From cyber attacks, to gas prices, to his squads of mysterious “little green men” who flooded war torn Ukraine, the Russian president knows how to destabilise his opponents.
Characteristically, there is plausible deniability for the former KGB agent in his latest assault on the West.
Rather than attack his enemies directly, Mr Putin is using the proxies of Iraqi migrants travelling through Belarus to the promised land of rich EU countries such as Germany.
Alexander Lukashenko, dubbed Europe’s last dictator, has been flying the Iraqis into Minsk before channelling them to the border with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
He calculates that Fortress Europe will be so horrified by this new front, the EU could drop the sanctions against Belarus.
The sanctions were imposed after he forced a Ryanair flight to land in Minsk and abducted a Belarussian dissident journalist onboard in June. Polish, Lithanian and Latvian border guards began to see a surge in Iraqis crossing the border the same month.
But the sudden escalation over the weekend has brought this slow-burning crisis to boiling point.
Rather than a trickle of a few dozen a day, hundreds if not thousands of migrants have suddenly massed at the border.
Poland says they are under the leadership of Belarusian troops, who appear to be organising illegal breaches of the border fence.
That is an attack on Polish sovereignty.
European governments believe this change of tempo was ordered not from Minsk, but from Moscow.
Mr Putin clearly approves of the tactic and has picked the moment of maximum weakness in Poland’s relations with the rest of the EU to launch his latest attack.
Migration is perhaps the single most divisive issue among EU member states, which have still failed to agree to long-delayed reforms to its asylum policy.
It pitted west and east, north and south against each other during the 2015 migration crisis and feelings are still very raw.
In fact the only thing all of the 27 seem to be able to agree on is that as many migrants as possible should be kept as far away as possible from the EU.
Mr Putin doesn’t miss an opportunity to sow discord among the member states, who managed to find a rare unanimity to impose sanctions on Moscow over Ukraine.
He recently smirkingly suggested that if Germany was to accelerate approval of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, the EU’s energy price crisis would suddenly ease.
It will have brought back memories of the time the Russian president turned off the taps to exert leverage over the bloc at the height of the Ukraine crisis.
Mr Putin has shown himself willing to use every weapon at his disposal to knock his enemies off his stride.
But his use of thousands of desperate migrants to drive a wedge between the EU represents a new low for the cunning Russian president.