Minister: Lithuania migrant influx constitutes hybrid attack

Ministry of Defense plaque.
Ministry of Defense plaque. Source: Ministry of Defense (Kaitseministeerium).

A recent surge in illegal migration into Lithuania represents a hybrid attack on that country and the region and European Union as a whole, defense minister Kalle Laanet (Reform) says.

Laanet said Friday that: "Lithuania is our close ally, and our duty is to support them immediately in this crisis."

"We are also ready to send three unmanned aircraft crews to Lithuania from August 1 to improve situational awareness at the border," he added, according to a defense ministry press release.

Laanet made the remarks during a phone call with his Lithuanian opposite number Agnė Bilotaitė, while both ministers agreed that the recent developments do not constitute a run-of-the-mill migration crisis.

Bilotaitė went so far as to call it a state-sponsored hybrid attack against Lithuania, the rest of the EU and its democratic values, which is aimed at destabilizing the region.

Close to 2,500 illegal migrants crossed the border from Belarus into Lithuania over the past month, over 30 times the figure for this time last year, and over 60 times the number in 2019. 

Many of the migrants hail from the countries in the middle-east and Africa, and their arrival in larger numbers follows a souring of relations between Lithuania and the rest of the EU and the west, on the one side, and Belarus and the Russian Federation on the other – going back almost a year, when Alexander Lukashenko was returned for a sixth term in elections widely condemned as rigged. 

A Ryanair plane bound for Vilnius, Lithuania's capital, was hijacked by Belarusian state forces in May while it was in the airspace of that country, and forced to land in Minsk. On board was a dissident Belarusian who is now in prison; another prominent opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has been residing in Vilnius since last year's elections.

Kalle Laanet and Agnė Bilotaitė discussed further ways in which Estonia could support the southernmost Baltic State, in addition to the tents, personnel and barbed wire already supplied.

Laanet also noted that the annual large-scale Russian military exercise Zapad starts soon, with scenarios involving all three Baltic States to be rehearsed, he said.

Belarusian soldiers also take part in Exercise Zapad.

The ministers also said that there was plenty of evidence that the upsurge in migration was orchestrated by Belarusian authorities, and that further sanctions than those already imposed – Estonia installed a flight ban on Belarusian aircraft following the Ryanair hijacking – are required.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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