Belarusian President, Alexander Lukashenko, has admitted it is "absolutely possible" that his forces helped migrants and refugees cross into neighbouring states such as Poland, as the crisis continues to amass at the country's borders.
Over the past few months, migrants and refugees from countries such as Syria and Iraq have been mounting at Belarus's border with Poland and other nearby states, after being trafficked to Minsk by a consortium of smugglers and airlines.
Since then, thousands of the migrants were held at the Belarus's border with Poland, in particular, where Belarusian forces have reportedly been beaten, abused, and, at times, forced them to cross the border in harsh weather conditions.
In a controversial interview with the BBC last week, Lukashenko seemed to confirm those reports of his forces pushing the migrants and refugees across the border. "Our guys are helping the migrants get into Polish territory? It's perfectly possible. I think it's absolutely possible," he admitted.
"Our troops know the migrants are going to Germany … Maybe someone helped them. I won't even look into this," Lukashenko said.
With Polish border forces also refusing to take in the migrants, Warsaw accuses Lukashenko of attempting to cause a confrontation by using migrants and refugees from the Middle East and elsewhere to cross into European Union (EU) states, as a way of taking revenge for Western sanctions.
The authoritarian leader stressed that "I told them I'm not going to detain migrants on the border, hold them at the border, and if they keep coming from now on I still won't stop them, because they're not coming to my country, they're going to yours [the EU]"
He claimed, however, that "I didn't invite them here. And to be honest, I don't want them to go through Belarus."
Are Belarusian soldiers helping migrants get into the EU? "It's perfectly possible. Absolutely possible," Alexander Lukashenko tells me. Camera/edit @mattgodtv Producer @BBCWillVernon @BBCNews @BBCWorld pic.twitter.com/4eBEkgawkZ
— Steve Rosenberg (@BBCSteveR) November 19, 2021
In the interview, Lukashenko was also confronted with questions about his grip on power in Belarus and evidence that police and soldiers had crushed dissent by beating protestors earlier this year. "OK, OK, I admit it, I admit it," he replied. "People were beaten … But there were police beaten up too and you didn't show this."
When asked about the destruction of civil society and hundreds of NGOs within the country, the president lashed out at the West by telling it that "we'll massacre all the scum that you have been financing. You're upset we've destroyed all your structures! Your NGOs, whatever they are, that you've been paying for."