Lithuania's President Calls Belarus' Stance on Migration 'Revenge' for EU Sanctions

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, responding to Belarus' support of what he says is illegal migration, said "it is a kind of revenge for EU sanctions," the Associated Press reported.

Lithuania recently declared a state of emergency because of the surge of migrants from Belarus. This past Friday, Lithuania started building a double barbed-wire fence Friday along the Belarus border that will run for 342 miles and cover most of the 423-mile border, at a cost of $48 million, according to Lithuanian authorities. The country has also set up tents to accommodate the growing number of migrants.

Lithuania has talked to the governments of the countries where the migrants came from and with transit countries in order to "curb the [illegal migration] process that is being supported by the Belarusian regime," Nauseda said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Lithuania Responds to Belarus' Migration Stance
Lithuania's president has called Belarus' stance on migration "revenge" for economic sanctions imposed by the European Union. Above, a Lithuanian border guard on patrol near the Lithuania-Belarus border on June 2 near Poskonys, Lithuania. Paulius Peleckis/Getty Images

The European Union's border agency is pledging to "significantly" step up its support to Lithuania in the coming days "due to the growing migratory pressure at Lithuania's border with Belarus" that the Baltic nation is trying to contain.

The decision by Frontex, the agency responsible for coordinating border control between EU member states and third countries, was announced late Saturday following a video call between Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri and Nauseda.

"Lithuania's border is our common external border, and Frontex stands ready to help where needed," Leggeri said in a statement. "We are ready to strengthen our level of support and deploy more European standing corps officers and equipment" to Lithuania, an EU and NATO member with a population of 2.8 million.

Frontex's operation, which started earlier this month with the deployment of a dozen officers and patrol cars, will more than double next week, the agency said.

Nauseda's office said that reinforcements pledged by Frontex were expected to reach Lithuania by July 15 and that some armed border patrols and additional translators arrived over the weekend. In addition, a patrol helicopter will be sent to Lithuania from neighboring Poland, and discussions were underway to dispatch another helicopter from Germany, Nauseda's office said.

In a tweet, Nauseda thanked Frontex for its support "to manage flows of illegal migrants through eastern border" with Belarus, another former Soviet republic that is not in the EU.

Lithuania, which has granted refuge to Belarus opposition figures, accuses its neighbor of organizing the border crossings by people mainly from Iraq, the Mideast and Africa.

In June, the number of illegal border crossings from Belarus into Lithuania rose sixfold, increasing the pressure on national border control authorities, Frontex said. The phenomenon has accelerated in July. More than 1,500 people have crossed into Lithuania from Belarus in the past two months—20 times more than in all of 2020.

Tensions between the EU and Belarus escalated even more after Belarus diverted a passenger jet on May 23 to arrest an opposition journalist. Belarus' authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, has said his country will halt cooperation with the 27-nation bloc on stemming migration in retaliation for bruising economic sanctions the EU slapped on Belarus over the passenger jet diversion.

Nauseda, on a visit to Poland on Sunday, said that "technical steps are necessary to make the border work and be a real barrier because now it can be easily crossed."

Polish President Andrzej Duda said Poland will "extend the necessary assistance" to Lithuania and was talking about the best way to do that with Frontex.

Lithuania Responds to Belarus' Migration Stance
Migrants from Cameroon rest at the refugee camp in the village of Vydeniai, Lithuania, on July 10. Mindaugas Kulbis/Associated Press