Alexander Lukashenko Says Belarus Will No Longer 'Protect' Neighboring Countries

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said Tuesday night that his country will no longer "protect" neighboring countries from allowing undocumented immigrants to freely pass through their borders due to what he called a "hybrid war" waged by the West against Belarus.

Speaking at the city of Brest on the border with Poland, Lukashenko warned the European Union that in retaliation for that "war," Belarusian authorities will cease stopping immigrants from illegally passing into Lithuania, Latvia and Poland. The three countries are all members of the EU.

"They are wailing: Ah, Belarusians are not protecting them—thousands of illegal immigrants are rushing into Lithuania, Latvia and Poland," Lukashenko said.

"They demand that we protect them from smuggling and drugs. I just want to ask, are you mad? You have unleashed a hybrid war against us and now you demand that we protect you as we did before."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Lithuania border guard
Lithuania State Border guard Vytautas Makauskas patrols near the Lithuania-Belarus border on June 21, 2021, near Poskonys, Lithuania. The Lithuanian government has accused the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, of illegally allowing refugees from the Middle East trying to reach Europe to pass through its borders. Lithuanian foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said the Belarusian leader is using migration as a weapon against the European Union, which has adopted sanctions against him and the nation. Paulius Peleckis/Getty Images

The EU and the United States have slapped Belarus with tough sanctions after it diverted a passenger jet last month to arrest a dissident journalist.

Earlier this month, officials in Lithuania accused Belarus of opening the doors for migrants to cross their shared 680-kilometer (420-mile) border.

Belarus has been rocked by months of protests fueled by Lukashenko's re-election to a sixth term in an August 2020 election that was widely seen as rigged. The authorities responded to the demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.

On May 23, Belarusian flight controllers ordered a Ryanair jet traveling from Greece to Lithuania to land in Minsk, where authorities arrested Raman Pratasevich, a 26-year-old dissident journalist who was on board.

Outraged EU leaders responded by barring the Belarusian flag carrier from EU airspace and airports and directing European carriers to avoid Belarus' airspace. They also warned of more sanctions to come targeting the main export sectors of the Belarusian economy.

Alexander Lukashenko
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko attends a ceremony to mark the 80th anniversary of Germany's attack on the Soviet Union in World War II in the Brest Fortress memorial 360 km (225 miles) southwest of Minsk, Belarus, Tuesday, June 22, 2021. Maxim Guchek/BeITA Pool Photo via AP