Staunton, August 3 – The more than 4,000 illegal immigrants passing from Belarus into Lithuania, a number approximately 40 times greater so far this year than all of last, are mostly from Turkey and Iraq. But among them are Russian citizens, Vilniius says; and it is pursuing talks with Moscow to arrange their return.
Most attention to this crisis has focused on Iraq, from which two-thirds of the migrants come, and Turkey, and on the way that Belarusian dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka has promoted this flow to show his anger at Lithuania and to create problems for it (stoletie.ru/lenta/mid_litvy_sredi_pronikajushhih_iz_belorussii_nelegalov_jest_rossijane_557.htm).
But the announcement by the Lithuanian foreign ministry that Russian citizens are among those entering Lithuania illegally makes the crisis even more serious. On the one hand, it suggests that Russia may be an active participant in Lukashenka’s stratagem, something that few have considered up to now.
And on the other, it almost certainly means that Moscow is exploiting this situation for its own purposes to create problems for Lithuania, a NATO and EU member and leading critic of Russia’s repressive and aggressive policies, by highlighting Vilnius’ difficulties in coping with the crisis and by using the larger Middle Eastern flow to cover the insertion of Russian illegals.
Lithuanian diplomats say they are negotiating with the Russian authorities and also with the governments of Iraq and Turkey, noting that they hope all these regimes will want to see the return of their citizens before the latter have to face the winter ahead while living in tents in Lithuanian detention camps.