Thursday

22nd Oct 2020

Lithuania clarifies role in EU drones for Belarus project

Lithuania has clarified its role in the purchase of surveillance drones for Belarusian authorities.

Lithuanian authorities wired the funds for the 15 drones to Belarusian ones under an EU programme, a Lithuanian diplomat said.

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But Lithuania did so on 8 May, well before the eruption of pro-democracy protests in Belarus on 9 August.

"There was no physical launching of the project and the Belarus counterparts of the project bought the drones themselves," the diplomat said.

"Lithuanian police did not take part in buying and delivering the drones to Belarus and they did not provide any training or guidance", she added.

Lithuanian police also told national media Belarus had spent €40,000 on the equipment and had received them on 28 August.

But when asked which firms supplied the drones, neither the Lithuanian diplomat nor the police were in a position to say.

EUobserver's original enquiries about the project had indicated that Lithuanian police handed over the drones in September, after the pro-democracy protests in Belarus had begun, despite a risk they could be used against demonstrators.

And the report caused recriminations in Lithuania, which is preparing for elections this weekend and where the incumbent prime minister is an ex-police chief.

For its part, the EU foreign service, whose money paid for the drones, declined to give further details.

And the Lithuanian diplomat noted that "already a month ago, the Lithuanian ministry of interior has addressed the [European] Commission for more information and more details concerning cooperation with Belarus and application of EU rules. As far as we know, the answer is due on 8 October".

The EU foreign service had earlier said the drones were part of an EU programme being handled by Latvia and Lithuania and were meant to monitor natural disasters, not protesters.

Meanwhile, a Latvian diplomat told EUobserver that Latvia "was part of neither this project nor purchase".

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