Polish border guards have fought off an attack by hundreds of migrants at the frontier with Belarus with water cannon and flash grenades this morning, in the latest escalation of tensions on the EU’s eastern front.
The Warsaw authorities issued orders to douse a group who were throwing stones, smoke bombs and pieces of metal fence at their soldiers despite the near-freezing conditions, MailOnline can reveal.
One police officer was rushed to hospital with a suspected fractured skull after being hit in the face.
Around 4,000 desperate refugees, most from the Middle East and North Africa, have gathered at the Polish border after being ferried to the frontier by forces loyal to Belarusian tyrant Alexander Lukashenko.
The dictator’s men appeared to be forcing the migrants through gaps in the fence in video which emerged today, while other footage showed a Belarusian soldier cutting a hole in the barbed wire.
A fleet of specialist water cannon vehicles has been drafted to the border crossing between Kuznica and Bruzgi where thousands of migrants have gathered since last week in the hopes of reaching the EU.
Newly released footage shows Polish police firing a water cannon across the border fence at the migrants on the Belarus side border.
A spokesman for the Polish Border Guard told MailOnline: ‘Migrants at the border crossing at Bruzgi on the Belarusian side have been attacking the Polish border service for about an house.
Polish police fire a water cannon at migrants camped at the Belarusian-Polish border at Bruzgi on Tuesday morning
A Polish police water cannon douses migrants after they hurled stones and other projectiles at officers and troops stationed along the line
A migrant runs away as he is hosed down by Polish police during the standoff at the border on Tuesday morning
A police water cannon douses migrants camped at the Polish border with Belarus as the migrant crisis continues
Polish police with riot shields stand guard as migrants hurl rocks and other projectiles towards the border fence
Water cannon and tear gas are used to disperse migrants at the frontier this morning
Police police stand guard in heavy armour as a water cannon douses the migrants at the Kuznica – Bruzgi checkpoint
Smoke from police tear gas grenades billow across the border as migrants attempt to breach the fence
Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko holds a meeting on the situation at the Belarusian-Polish border from the presidential palace in Minsk on Thursday
‘Water cannons were used against these aggressive foreigners.
‘The migrants were throwing stones and objects that emit smoke at the Polish Border Service.
‘A loud bang was heard and a log of wood was thrown through the barbed wire fence by aggressive foreigners.’
The spokesman added: ‘Immigrants camped at the border crossing in Bruzgi have been behaving aggressively, throwing stones and various objects at the Polish Border Guard.
‘In order to prevent illegal border crossing, water cannons were used against the aggressive foreigners.’
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the use of tear gas and water cannon by Polish forces ‘absolutely unacceptable’.
‘The behaviour of the Polish side is absolutely unacceptable,’ he told a press conference in Moscow, citing ‘tear gas and a water cannon and shots fired above the heads of migrants towards the direction of Belarus’.
The Polish Red Cross have told how the migrants are freezing to death in the freezing conditions on the Polish-Belarus border.
Drenching them with water cannon is certain to make the humanitarian situation worse.
But charities have been prevented from offering any assistance
A Polish Red Cross spokeswoman told MailOnline: ‘Refugees are freezing to death in the forest.
‘There are pregnant women and children amongst them.
‘We have everything they need – medical assistance, warm clothes and hot food but we have been prevented from reaching them.’
Water is sprayed at migrants camped along the border on Tuesday as a helicopter flies overhead
Hundreds of migrants, most of them from the Middle East and North Africa, mass at the border on Tuesday
A police water cannon fires over the border fence as migrants hurl objects at the troops
A Polish Border Guard helicopter flies over the frontier this morning
Police vans make their way down a highway close to the border as the migrant crisis continues
Polish border guards estimate up to 4,000 migrants are now camped out along the border between Poland and Belarus in increasingly dire conditions and freezing temperatures.
Western powers accuse Belarus of orchestrating the crisis, possibly with the backing of Russia, by luring migrants to the border to sow division in the EU – though Minsk and Moscow deny the claims.
At least 11 migrants have died on both sides since the influx started in the summer. One of them, a 19-year-old Syrian from the war-torn city of Homs, was laid to rest on Monday.
A standoff near the Bruzgi-Kuznica border crossing on the EU’s eastern frontier began last week when hundreds of migrants gathered there.
Russia and Belarus have denied organising the crisis, Lukashenko told a government meeting on Tuesday: ‘We cannot let this so-called problem lead to heated confrontation.’
‘The main thing now is to protect our country and our people, and not to allow clashes,’ he added, according to state news agency Belta.
Lukashenko discussed the crisis with Germany’s Angela Merkel on Monday, his first phone call with a Western leader since he suppressed mass protests against his rule last year.
Water cannon is unleashed on the migrants as the crisis on the EU border enters its second week
Migrants battle with police at the Polish-Belarus border on Tuesday
Migrants shield their faces from tear gas during skirmishes at the border on Tuesday morning
Water is sprayed over the barricades to migrants congregated under the Kuznica – Bruzgi checkpoint
Two Polish soldiers are seen sitting in the back of an army truck on the way to the frontier today
The Belarus leader – in power since 1994 and accused by the West of rigging an election last year – said he and Merkel agreed the standoff should be defused.
‘We were of the united opinion that nobody needs escalation – not the EU, or Belarus,’ he said.
But he said he had ‘differing’ views with Merkel on how the migrants got to Belarus, with the West saying Minsk had brought them there as revenge for sanctions.
EU foreign ministers have agreed that existing sanctions targeting Lukashenko’s regime will be expanded to include individuals or companies found to have encouraged border crossings.
‘We are not gathering all the refugees in the world and bringing them to Belarus, as Poland told the EU,’ Lukashenko said, adding that Minsk had deported around 5,000 migrants.
The US has also vowed to expand its sanctions on Belarus.
Merkel’s office said the pair discussed bringing humanitarian aid to the migrants, whose number includes many young children.
Migrants wrapped in blankets to protect from the cold stand at the Belarus-Poland border this morning
Troops on their way to the front as the migrant continues for a second week
Polish officers hold riot shields as they face off with migrants at the border again on Tuesday
French President Emmanuel Macron also on Monday discussed the crisis with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, who has urged the EU to speak directly to Minsk.
France’s Europe minister Clement Beaune said there were signs that the crisis was de-escalating but urged caution.
‘Europe has been quick, united and firm on this crisis,’ he told the France 2 television channel. ‘It is doing the right thing.’
Iraq has said it will start voluntary repatriations of its citizens from Belarus this week, but many migrants – including those AFP spoke to – have vowed not to go back.
Following EU pressure to stop the arrivals, Turkish Airlines has banned Iraqis, Syrians and Yemenis from flying to Belarus via Turkey and private Syrian carrier Cham Wings Airlines has said it will halt flights to Minsk.