MOSCOW — As European governments threatened Belarus with deeper sanctions this week for fomenting the migration crisis on the Belarusian-Polish border, its bombastic leader countered with what sounded like a trump card: he could stop the flow of gas to the West.
There was just one problem: It wasn’t his gas to stop.
So on Friday, Russia — which sends much of its gas to Europe via Belarus — had to set the record straight for the Belarusian president, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko.
“Russia was, is and will remain a country that fulfills all of its obligations in supplying European customers with gas,” the spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin told reporters.
With thousands of migrants still stranded in the frigid cold on the edge of the European Union — encouraged by Belarus to go there but barred by Poland, an E.U. member, from crossing its border — the complex relationship between two allied autocrats looms large over the crisis. The mixed messaging over Russia’s natural gas exports was the latest sign that even as Mr. Putin continues to back Mr. Lukashenko, it is the Belarusian leader — a strongman who once ran a Soviet collective farm — who keeps raising the stakes.
the forced landing of a European passenger jet with a Belarusian dissident on board, Mr. Lukashenko seemed to have no choice but to bow to his Kremlin benefactors and to assent to deeper integration with them.
suggested they were ready to “start a conflict.”
several airlines on Friday said they were limiting flights to Belarus from the Middle East, where most of the migrants have traveled from. They include Turkish Airlines, one of the largest carriers to offer flights to Minsk, the Belarusian capital.
At the same time, aid groups described dire conditions for migrants huddled at the border, struggling against the cold and threats of violence. One Iraqi couple and a Syrian man were beaten and robbed, according to the activist coalition Grupa Granica.
The migration crisis comes amid the backdrop of rising tensions between Russia and Belarus’s southern neighbor, Ukraine — a onetime Russian ally that broke away in its pro-Western revolution in 2014. Ukraine’s turn looms large for Moscow, a cautionary tale that the Kremlin is determined not to repeat.
Understand the Belarus-Poland Border Crisis
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A migrant crisis. Gatherings of migrants along the European Union’s eastern border have led to an escalating standoff between Belarus and the E.U. Here’s what to know:
“Putin took Crimea, which is very good, but Putin lost Ukraine,” Mr. Markov, the pro-Kremlin analyst, said. “If he also loses Belarus, he will never be forgiven for it.”
Mr. Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994, and for years profited from the competition between Russia and the West for influence in his country, provoking deep frustration in Moscow. That game ended last year, when he declared a landslide re-election victory in a vote widely seen as fraudulent, leading the E.U. to impose sanctions that continue to rankle him.
With Mr. Lukashenko’s opponents seen as too pro-Western, the Kremlin backed him despite its reservations — saving Mr. Lukashenko’s regime but saddling Mr. Putin with an ever-more-erratic ally.
In Moscow, many expected the Kremlin’s backing to translate into tighter integration into a “union state” between Russia and Belarus that would have magnified Mr. Putin’s geopolitical sway. But those talks ended earlier this fall without an agreement on a common currency or legislature — signaling that Mr. Lukashenko was able to retain his independence.
Mr. Putin and Mr. Lukashenko, both in their late 60s, share a worldview focused on a two-faced, decadent West. Both have overseen harsh crackdowns on dissent in the last year. The 2020 uprising against Mr. Lukashenko in a neighboring, Russian-speaking country spooked the Kremlin, Russian analysts say, and helped prompt Mr. Putin’s decision to dismantle the movement of the opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny.
Mr. Lukashenko’s approach toward migration shows how he has sought to maneuver between Russia and the West. In 2018, he boasted that his country’s border guards were significantly reducing the trafficking of migrants and drugs into the European Union. In recent months, he has swerved the other way, with Western officials saying he has orchestrated a wave of migration through the Minsk airport toward his country’s borders, hoping to embarrass the E.U. into legitimizing him.
On the ground in Minsk, the human toll of that strategy is evident.
When large numbers of asylum seekers began arriving over the summer, a rights activist in Minsk said, they came as part of organized tour groups with reservations at the Yubileyny — a hotel complex operated by the presidential administration of the Republic of Belarus.
Now, they are starting to run out of money, Alena Chekhovich, the activist in Minsk, said in a telephone interview, with some forced to sleep on the street. Others relocated to hostels in the city center, even with expired visas — another sign, Ms. Chekhovich claimed, that the Belarusian government, which typically watches closely for migration violations, was exacerbating the crisis.
Ms. Chekhovich said many migrants who make it from Minsk to the border are basically marooned in makeshift camps there, monitored by Belarusian border guards who prevent them from returning.
“It’s sad that people are ending up in this situation simply because of the actions of the state,” she said.
Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting from Moscow, and Monika Pronczuk from Brussels.
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BRASÍLIA — The conference hall was packed, with a crowd of more than 1,000 cheering attacks on the press, the liberals and the politically correct. There was Donald Trump Jr. warning that the Chinese could meddle in the election, a Tennessee congressman who voted against certifying the 2020 vote, and the president complaining about voter fraud.
In many ways, the September gathering looked like just another CPAC, the conservative political conference. But it was happening in Brazil, most of it was in Portuguese and the president at the lectern was Jair Bolsonaro, the country’s right-wing leader.
Fresh from their assault on the results of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, former President Donald J. Trump and his allies are exporting their strategy to Latin America’s largest democracy, working to support Mr. Bolsonaro’s bid for re-election next year — and helping sow doubt in the electoral process in the event that he loses.
pillow executive being sued for defaming voting-machine makers.
academics, Brazil’s electoral officials and the U.S. government, all have said that there has not been fraud in Brazil’s elections. Eduardo Bolsonaro has insisted there was. “I can’t prove — they say — that I have fraud,” he said in South Dakota. “So, OK, you can’t prove that you don’t.”
Mr. Trump’s circle has cozied up to other far-right leaders, including in Hungary, Poland and the Philippines, and tried to boost rising nationalist politicians elsewhere. But the ties are the strongest, and the stakes perhaps the highest, in Brazil.
WhatsApp groups for Bolsonaro supporters recently began circulating the trailer for a new series from Fox News host Tucker Carlson that sympathizes with the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Mr. Nemer said. The United States, which has been a democracy for 245 years, withstood that attack. Brazil passed its constitution in 1988 after two decades under a military dictatorship.
advised President Bolsonaro to respect the democratic process.
In October, 64 members of Congress asked President Biden for a reset in the United States’ relationship with Brazil, citing President Bolsonaro’s pursuit of policies that threaten democratic rule. In response, Brazil’s ambassador to the United States defended President Bolsonaro, saying debate over election security is normal in democracies. “Brazil is and will continue to be one of the world’s freest countries,” he said.
Unemployment and inflation have risen. He has been operating without a political party for two years. And Brazil’s Supreme Court and Congress are closing in on investigations into him, his sons and his allies.
Late last month, a Brazil congressional panel recommended that President Bolsonaro be charged with “crimes against humanity,” asserting that he intentionally let the coronavirus tear through Brazil in a bid for herd immunity. The panel blamed his administration for more than 100,000 deaths.
Minutes after the panel voted, Mr. Trump issued his endorsement. “Brazil is lucky to have a man such as Jair Bolsonaro working for them,” he said in a statement. “He is a great president and will never let the people of his great country down!”
“They say he’s the Donald Trump of South America,” Mr. Trump said in 2019. “I like him.”
To many others, Mr. Bolsonaro was alarming. As a congressman and candidate, he had waxed poetic about Brazil’s military dictatorship, which tortured its political rivals. He said he would be incapable of loving a gay son. And he said a rival congresswoman was too ugly to be raped.
Three months into his term, President Bolsonaro went to Washington. At his welcome dinner, the Brazilian embassy sat him next to Mr. Bannon. At the White House later, Mr. Trump and Mr. Bolsonaro made deals that would allow the Brazilian government to spend more with the U.S. defense industry and American companies to launch rockets from Brazil.
announced Eduardo Bolsonaro would represent South America in The Movement, a right-wing, nationalist group that Mr. Bannon envisioned taking over the Western world. In the news release, Eduardo Bolsonaro said they would “reclaim sovereignty from progressive globalist elitist forces.”
pacts to increase commerce. American investors plowed billions of dollars into Brazilian companies. And Brazil spent more on American imports, including fuel, plastics and aircraft.
Now a new class of companies is salivating over Brazil: conservative social networks.
Gettr and Parler, two Twitter clones, have grown rapidly in Brazil by promising a hands-off approach to people who believe Silicon Valley is censoring conservative voices. One of their most high-profile recruits is President Bolsonaro.
partly funded by Guo Wengui, an exiled Chinese billionaire who is close with Mr. Bannon. (When Mr. Bannon was arrested on fraud charges, he was on Mr. Guo’s yacht.) Parler is funded by Rebekah Mercer, the American conservative megadonor who was Mr. Bannon’s previous benefactor.
Understand the Claim of Executive Privilege in the Jan. 6. Inquiry
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A key issue yet untested. Donald Trump’s power as former president to keep information from his White House secret has become a central issue in the House’s investigation of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Amid an attempt by Mr. Trump to keep personal records secret and a move to hold Stephen K. Bannon in contempt of Congress, here’s a breakdown of executive privilege:
Companies like Gettr and Parler could prove critical to President Bolsonaro. Like Mr. Trump, he built his political movement with social media. But now Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are more aggressively policing hate speech and misinformation. They blocked Mr. Trump and have started cracking down on President Bolsonaro. Last month, YouTube suspended his channel for a week after he falsely suggested coronavirus vaccines could cause AIDS.
In response, President Bolsonaro has tried to ban the companies from removing certain posts and accounts, but his policy was overturned. Now he has been directing his supporters to follow him elsewhere, including on Gettr, Parler and Telegram, a messaging app based in Dubai.
He will likely soon have another option. Last month, Mr. Trump announced he was starting his own social network. The company financing his new venture is partly led by Luiz Philippe de Orleans e Bragança, a Brazilian congressman and Bolsonaro ally.
said the rioters’ efforts were weak. “If it were organized, they would have taken the Capitol and made demands,” he said.
The day after the riot, President Bolsonaro warned that Brazil was “going to have a worse problem” if it didn’t change its own electoral systems, which rely on voting machines without paper backups. (Last week, he suddenly changed his tune after announcing that he would have Brazil’s armed forces monitor the election.)
Diego Aranha, a Brazilian computer scientist who studies the country’s election systems, said that Brazil’s system does make elections more vulnerable to attacks — but that there has been no evidence of fraud.
“Bolsonaro turned a technical point into a political weapon,” he said.
President Bolsonaro’s American allies have helped spread his claims.
At the CPAC in Brazil, Donald Trump Jr. told the audience that if they didn’t think the Chinese were aiming to undermine their election, “you haven’t been watching.” Mr. Bannon has called President Bolsonaro’s likely opponent, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a “transnational, Marxist criminal” and “the most dangerous leftist in the world.” Mr. da Silva served 18 months in prison but his corruption charges were later tossed out by a Supreme Court justice.
Eduardo Bolsonaro’s slide show detailing claims of Brazilian voter fraud, delivered in South Dakota, was broadcast by One America News, a conservative cable network that reaches 35 million U.S. households. It was also translated into Portuguese and viewed nearly 600,000 times on YouTube and Facebook.
protest his enemies in the Supreme Court and on the left.
The weekend before, just down the road from the presidential palace, Mr. Bolsonaro’s closest allies gathered at CPAC. Eduardo Bolsonaro and the American Conservative Union, the Republican lobbying group that runs CPAC, organized the event. Eduardo Bolsonaro’s political committee mostly financed it. Tickets sold out.
a fiery speech. Then he flew to São Paulo, where he used Mr. Miller’s detainment as evidence of judicial overreach. He told the crowd he would no longer recognize decisions from a Supreme Court judge.
He then turned to the election.
“We have three alternatives for me: Prison, death or victory,” he said. “Tell the bastards I’ll never be arrested.”
Leonardo Coelho and Kenneth P. Vogel contributed reporting.
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Poland has massed thousands of troops on its border with Belarus to keep out Middle Eastern migrants who have set up camp there, as Western officials accuse Belarus’s leader of intentionally trying to create a new migrant crisis in Europe.
The standoff along the razor-wire fence separating the two countries has intensified a long-simmering confrontation between Belarus, a repressive former Soviet republic, and the European Union, which includes Poland.
Western officials say that President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus is allowing asylum seekers from the Middle East into his country by the thousands and then funneling them westward toward Poland and the E.U., and has escalated that strategy this week. They say he is retaliating against sanctions imposed after his disputed 2020 election victory.
The sharp increase in tensions has rattled European officials, with images of desperate migrants evoking the refugee crisis of 2015. The confrontation with Belarus, a close Russian ally, also raises new security concerns.
Amnesty International and the Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights, have accused Poland of illegally pushing migrants who had crossed the border back into Belarusian territory.
warned the West: “We stopped drugs and migrants for you — now you’ll have to eat them and catch them yourselves.”
Until recently, migrants were scattered the length of the border, but now Belarusian authorities are collecting them at the Kuznica crossing, said Anna Alboth of the Minority Rights Group in Poland.
On Tuesday, Belarus’s border service released a video showing a tent camp squeezed into a narrow strip of land just a few yards from a line of Polish security forces in white helmets. The video showed a low-flying helicopter, military vehicles and a water cannon truck on the Polish side, and a thicket of tents and smoky bonfires on the Belarusian side.
video posted by the Polish Ministry of Defense on Monday showed a crowd of people trying to break down the razor wire border fence with long sticks.
sent financial aid to Turkey to do so in 2016.
“We see that the Belarusian specialists are working very responsibly,” Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, told reporters.
Polish officials said that in addition to those at the border, more than 10,000 migrants were elsewhere in Belarus, also hoping to get to the E.U. On Monday, Piotr Müller, a Polish government spokesman, said the country’s borders were “under attack in an organized manner.” A top security official, Maciej Wasik, said a “real battle” had taken place against people trying to enter Poland illegally near Kuznica.
The standoff comes at a particularly difficult moment in Poland’s relations with the E.U., and in the country’s domestic politics. The conservative Polish government’s longstanding feud with the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, over the independence of Poland’s judiciary escalated in recent weeks, and the commission has been withholding the payment of the country’s $41 billion share of the E.U. coronavirus fund.
At home, the Polish governing party, Law and Justice, has seized on the image of a nation besieged by migrants to parade its nationalist credentials and brand its critics as unpatriotic at a time of national crisis. Both the opposition and nationalist groups that support the government are scheduled to rally in the center of the capital on Thursday, Poland’s Independence Day.
Anton Troianovski reported from Moscow, Monika Pronczuk from Brussels, and Tolek Magdziarz from Warsaw. Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting from Moscow, Jane Arraf from Suleimaniya, Iraq, and Andrew Higgins from Cluj, Romania.
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