Lithuania’s State Border Guard Service accused Belarusian border guards of illegally crossing the border between Lithuania and Belarus on Tuesday, during an attempt to drive a group of 35 Iraqi migrants into Lithuania. The incident is the latest in what Vilnius has described as “hybrid warfare” by Belarus.
The border guard service released a video of the alleged incident near the village of Dieveniskes on social media, showing 12 Belarusian border guards in riot gear standing in a line behind a group of migrants approaching Lithuanian border guards, with some of the migrants filmed attempting to run past the border guards. The video then cuts to the Belarusian border guards standing closer to the camera, with the Belarusians said to have crossed a ditch that marks the border between Belarus and Lithuania.
In response to a video released by Minsk that claimed Lithuanian border guards had physically shoved migrants back across the border, the State Border Guard Service also released security camera footage of what it claims to be the four “provocateurs” filmed by Minsk. The footage shows the “provocateurs” briefly crossing the border before crossing back when Lithuanian border guards approach, with the border guards never making contact with the four. Mobile phone footage then shows the four being filmed by Belarusian border guards, claiming to have been forcibly pushed back into Belarus.
The governments of Lithuania, Latvia and Poland have all accused Belarus of “hybrid warfare” against them in retaliation for European Union sanctions placed on Belarus following its crackdown on opposition to dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s rule, or support for Belarusian opposition movements. Lithuania has accused Belarus of flying in migrants into Minsk on Belarusian tourist visas, before driving them into Lithuania to claim asylum, creating a migration crisis that Vilnius alleges is retaliation for sanctions placed after Belarus hijacked an airliner to detain dissident journalist Roman Protasevich.
While the United Nations’ refugee authority says that migrant flows appear to have mostly subsided, the Lithuanian government continues to face difficulties in housing migrants that have arrived in the country and providing adequate resources while processing their asylum claims, with abandoned buildings now being repurposed as detention centers in addition to tents and prefabricated buildings. Anti-migrant protests have already degenerated into riots, with two police officers injured in one such riot after anti-migrant activists broke into a military base where a detention center was being constructed.
As a result of these difficulties, Lithuania declared a state of emergency in July over what it described as the use of migrants as a “political weapon”, with over 4,100 people reported to have been detained for illegal immigration as of early August, compared to 81 during the entirety of 2020. In addition to requesting help from EU border and coast guard agency Frontex, Vilnius has also moved to build a barbed wire fence along the 550 kilometer-long border with Belarus, receiving additional barbed wire from Estonia and Ukraine (which has delivered 38 tons of barbed wire as “humanitarian aid”) after Lithuanian stocks were exhausted.