VILNIUS - Belarusians who have fled the Minsk regime to Lithuania say they do not want to be treated like Russians as Lithuanian politicians reignite discussions on subjecting Belarusians and Russians to the same restrictions.
Speaking at a press conference in Vilnius on Friday, representatives of Belarusian organizations stressed the different attitudes of Belarusian and Russian societies towards Russia's war in Ukraine and the orientation of the Belarusians towards the West.
Yauhen Vilsky, a representative of the Narodnaya Hramada Party, says Belarusians in Lithuania are not the country's enemies, they do not pose a threat to national security, and they also are ready to defend the country in case of aggression.
The party's leader Mikola Statkevich "is a personal enemy of Lukashenko, imprisoned for 14 years", he said, adding that many of the party's members are fighting on the Ukrainian side.
"I am convinced that the Belarusians in Lithuania are not Lithuania's enemies and do not pose any threat to national security. On the contrary, in case of war, we are ready to defend Lithuania from the aggressor," said the Belarusian opposition representative.
Aliaksandr Klachko, who fought in Ukraine and left Belarus for Lithuania in 2020, said in a video call from the front that Belarus is currently under "double occupation" – by the Lukashenko regime and Russia.
"I am very grateful to Lithuania for letting me and fellow like-minded people into Lithuania through the humanitarian corridor in 2020 because prison was the only alternative for peaceful protests. I would like to stress that Belarus is not Russia, Belarus today is under double occupation: first of all, by the Lukashenko regime, which is hostile to Belarusians, and also by Russia," Klachko said.
"Both occupiers are trying to eradicate the Belarusian identity and blur the line between the Belarusians and Russians. It is difficult for the Belarusians today because everywhere in Europe we have become known because of Lukashenko who allowed Russia to attack Ukraine from the territory of Belarus, and that's why we have that shadow hanging over us," the Belarusian representative said.
Lithuania has a law in place on restrictive measures for Russian and Belarusian citizens, but the latter are subject to fewer of them. However, Lithuanian politicians got back to discussion on putting the Belarusians on part with the Russians after Belarus allowed the Wagner mercenary group to enter the country following its failed mutiny in Russia.
Until May, the Russians and Belarusians are facing restrictions on obtaining Lithuanian visas and electronic resident status, but additional difficulties are also in place for Russian citizens regarding their entry to Lithuania, the purchase real estate, and their applications for residence permits in Lithuania are temporarily rejected.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda was initially of the position that Belarusian citizens should be subject to the same sanctions as Russians, but the Seimas overrode his veto and introduced softer restrictions for Belarusians citizens.