Wednesday

28th Jul 2021

Lithuania seeks EU deterrence of Lukashenko

  • Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko (Photo: kremlin.ru)

Lithuania has called on the EU to help deter Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko from pushing migrants across its border in record numbers.

"Lukashenko has waged a hybrid war against Europe. Downing the plane was just a first step," Lithuanian foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told EUobserver on Sunday (11 July), referring to Belarus' hijacking of an EU passenger airliner in May.

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"Now he has stepped things up by weaponising migration," Landsbergis added, on the eve of an EU foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels on Monday.

"We need to strengthen EU deterrence capacity to prevent malign actors from instrumentalising migration," he said.

About 1,600 mostly Arab and African refugees have crossed into Lithuania so far this year, 1,400 of them since 31 May, after the EU imposed economic sanctions on Belarus over the hijacking.

The figure is more than 20 times higher than in 2020 or previous years.

Lithuania started to erect the first, 500-metre long segment of a new razor-wire fence along its land border with Belarus on Friday, according to Reuters.

It will form part of a 550-km long, €46m fortification when it is finished.

It has deployed troops to intercept crossings and it is voting new asylum laws this week to accelerate decision-making and tighten security at detention camps.

Lithuania earlier accused Lukashenko of flying in refugees from Baghdad and Istanbul before sending them over the border.

And Landsbergis, the foreign minister, had spoken with his counterparts in Iraq and Turkey to seek cooperation, the Lithuanian foreign ministry said.

"But at the same time, the number of Turkish Airlines flights to Minsk is increasing," the ministry said.

"Iraq and Turkey should stop contributing to illegal migration flows, by closing their eyes to the big number of flights from Baghdad and Istanbul," Lithuania said.

The EU has so far sent six out of 30 support officers due to come from Frontex, its border-control agency in Poland.

And Landsbergis said "faster" and "more efficient" EU help for countries struggling with irregular migration crises was needed.

The EU economic sanctions on Belarus target its banking, fertiliser, oil, and tobacco sectors.

They are designed to be dialled up if need be, widening the EU ban to more product categories.

The EU has also threatened to blacklist more Belarusian oligarchs if things get worse.

And for their part, top MPs from seven EU states, including France, Germany, Ireland, and Poland, said Europe should consider novel options if they do.

"We call for a ban on flights to Belarus suspected of being used for state-organised people trafficking," they said in an open letter on Friday, signed also by senior UK, Ukrainian, and US politicians.

They urged sanctions on officials involved in the practice.

And they called for EU and Nato pressure on Iraq and Turkey to help stop "the abuse" of the world's "most vulnerable" people in Lukashenko's political games.

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