Event: Migrant Crisis on the EU-Belarusian Border

Online discussion with Rasa Juknevičienė, Marius Laurinavičius and Vít Novotný

17 August 2021

Recording of the online discussion on mass irregular migration being used as tactics of the hybrid war waged by Alyaksandr Lukashenko on its EU neighbours.

Alyaksandr Lukashenko has unleashed flows of irregular migration to Lithuania on a scale never seen before in the region. After detaining more than 4000 irregular migrants and struggling to tackle the crisis, the Lithuanian government decided to pursue a ‘push back’ policy. Since then, the flows of migrants have also been diverted towards Latvia and Poland.

The initial statements of the speakers can be heard in the recording below:

Our speakers:

  • Rasa Juknevičienė – Lithuanian MEP, European People’s Party, former Minister of National Defense of Lithuania (2008-2012)
  • Marius Laurinavičius – Expert on Russia, international affairs and security, journalist
  • Vít Novotný – Expert on migration, border control and migrant integration, and Senior Research Officer at the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies

In the discussion,  the speakers reiterated the position that the migration crisis on the EU-Belarusian border is a hybrid attack handcrafted by Alyaksandr Lukashenko with the backing of the Kremlin. Rasa Juknevičienė pointed out that this is not a natural route for migrants while for Lithuania, the scale of the sudden flows of migration is too large to tackle, therefore, the people that are trying to get into the EU are being used as weapons by the Belarusian regime. The former Defence Minister also pointed out that the attacks also take shape in the spread of disinformation. Belarus’ efforts to portray Lithuania as a violent state against the migrants have already been exposed and presented at the EU-level meetings.

The speakers also argued that the increased migration flows are only a part of a larger hybrid attack waged against Lithuania with the aim to cause chaos. Both Juknevičienė and Marius Laurinavičius highlight the gains that Russia is receiving from the developments on the Lithuanian-Belarusian border. While the former speaker points out the increased activity of the marginal opposition groups who advocate for a change in Lithuania’s foreign policy, Laurinavičius speaks of Belarus having no interest in escalating the crisis between the country and the EU. According to him, Russia is integrating more and more hybrid tactics in their military exercises so the migration crisis could be a part of it.

When asked about the compatibility of the ‘push back’ policy applied in Lithuania and Latvia and European migration norms, Vít Novotný stated that it is time to reevaluate the EU’s migration policy. According to him, the EU has put additional legal infrastructure on the Refugee Convention over the years and the courts have supported highly generous interpretations. Another aspect Novotný pointed out is that the current migration crisis is completely unique and the relations between Lithuania and Belarus before it were based on mutual trust. However, now Lithuania is building a border fence as a last resort which, according to the speaker, is a correct way to tackle the crisis.

In the Q&A session, the speakers were asked whether there is any direct evidence of Russia’s role in this crisis, to which the answer was no, but from the expert’s opinion and analysis, such conclusion can be drawn. Regarding the Lithuanian foreign policy direction and whether it might be changing to try and stop the current attacks against the country, speakers voiced a unified position that no matter what hits the current government, it will not change it’s position on sanctions imposed on Belarus or the government’s Russia policy. In the end, it was concluded that the way Lithuania has been tackling the migration crisis is a right way to do it in the existing conditions.

The event was part of European Parliament co-funded project.


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