Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki has warned that the "stability and security of the entire EU is at stake" in a standoff between migrants and border guards on Poland's eastern border to Belarus.
On Tuesday Mr Morawiecki travelled to the eastern border area where Poland says Belarus officials have corralled more than 4,000 migrants from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq in increasingly cold conditions.
With numbers growing and pressure building by the hour, Polish politicians fear a deliberate provocation by Belarus could prompt a serious incident at the EU’s eastern outer wall.
“Sealing the Polish border is our national interest. But today the stability and security of the entire EU is at stake,” Mr Morawiecki wrote on Twitter during a visit to the village of Kuznica in the eastern Podlaski region.
On Monday footage showed men armed with wire cutters and even tree trunks trying to breach the barbed wire fence. With night-time temperatures in the region near freezing point, Mr Morawiecki insisted the migration wave was a ploy by Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko to intimidate Europe and undermine peace in the continent in retaliation for EU sanctions against Minsk.
Mr Morawiecki insists Russian president Vladimir Putin is "the main decision-maker" in the migration wave.
After talks between the Russian and Belarusian leaders on Tuesday, Minsk said the two discussed the “harsh actions of the Polish side towards peaceful people”. The Kremlin said it was “very carefully watching” the standoff.
Nato and the EU have condemned Belarus officials for guiding migrants to the border. In Brussels the European Commission attacked Minsk's "gangster-style approach" to migration. Commission spokesman Peter Stano said it was "inhuman" to lead migrants to the border and force them across the border.
As the number of migrants began to build in September, Poland declared a state of emergency and has banned media and human rights organisations from its eastern border regions. Polish intelligence says migrants, in makeshift camps on the other side of the border, are largely under the control of the Belarus army.
"Belarus wants to cause a major incident, preferably with shots fired and casualties," said Piotr Wawrzyk, Poland's deputy foreign minister.
Poland’s migrant crisis has prompted a shift in its relationship with Brussels and its EU neighbours after years of tensions over the rule of law and claims of a political takeover of Polish courts.
Germany's acting federal interior minister Horst Seehofer praised Poland for protecting the EU's outer border with "permissible means".
“They are doing a very important service for the whole of Europe,” he said on Tuesday.
German and EU officials have stepped up their insistence that Warsaw accept greater assistance from Frontex, the EU border agency. Unlike Lithuania, however, Poland's president Andrzej Duda said his the country had "sufficient strength and resources to physically protect the border".
Mr Duda said on Tuesday Poland instead sought “support at the political level” from its EU and Nato allies.
France has accused Belarus of "seeking to destabilise the EU"; White House spokesman Ned Price said the US "strongly condemns" Minsk's "exploitation and coercion of vulnerable people and the regime's callous and inhumane facilitation of irregular migration flows across its borders".
The migrant crisis has eclipsed all other events in Poland, including growing street protests over a tough abortion regime linked to the death of a young woman from septic shock.
Ahead of an emergency parliamentary sitting on Tuesday, Poland’s political opposition were struggling to strike the right note with voters.
Opposition leader Donald Tusk, head of the Civic Platform party, agrees with efforts to defend the outer EU border, but demanded greater respect for growing humanitarian problems.
In the direction of the Polish government on Monday, Mr Tusk added: “Migrants aren’t political gold.”
Hours earlier public broadcaster TVP told its viewers that “the opposition is supporting migrants and Lukashenko”.
On Monday constitutional court justice Krystyna Pawlowicz, appointed in 2019 under reformed procedures, wrote on Twitter: "Opposition! ON YOUR KNEES!!! BEG FOR FORGIVENESS of the soldiers of the Polish ARMY and BORDER GUARDS".