RIGA - The hybrid attack on the eastern border of the European Union (EU) and NATO by the regime of the authoritarian leader of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko is an asymmetrical response to the EU's principled position on the regime's brutal violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, Foreign Minister Edgar Rinkevics (New Unity) said.
In the annual foreign policy report, the Minister explained that Latvia, together with Poland and Lithuania, has developed an active response to efforts to destabilize the situation in the region. Since the beginning of the crisis, both the EU and NATO have been regularly informed about the implementation of elements of hybrid warfare against the EU and NATO.
As a result, according to Rinkevics, EU partners, including the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission and the Secretary General of NATO, have shown their solidarity and support at the highest level. NATO has strongly condemned the Lukashenko regime's hybrid activities against Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, noting that it continues to monitor the impact of the situation on the Alliance's security. The Minister noted that Latvia has expressed its readiness to support Poland if it is requested to hold consultations in accordance with Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty.
"We have called on the EU to step up pressure on the Lukashenko regime by further expanding the sanctions package, which has resulted in the EU deciding to financially sanction Belarusian national airline Belavia and Syrian airline Cham Wings Airlines, as well as Belarusian officials involved in human trafficking, and participating in facilitating artificial migration," explained the Foreign Minister.
Rinkevics noted that Latvia has asked the EU to provide practical support in strengthening the management of the external border, and a total of EUR 200 million has been allocated to Latvia, Lithuania and Poland for these needs. The EU has also provided up to EUR 3.5 million for the return of migrants to their countries of origin.
According to the Minister, the Baltic States and Poland have addressed senior UN officials, including the High Commissioner for Refugees, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the head of the International Organization for Migration, explaining the differences between a classical migration crisis and this situation.
"These organizations were also called upon to play a more active role in influencing Belarus to fulfill its international obligations and take full responsibility for migrants on its territory. Intensive talks have taken place between EU institutions and the countries of origin and transit of these migrants to facilitate the return of them, as well limit opportunities for potential migrants to use Belarus as a transit country," Rinkevics noted.
Rinkevics emphasized that Latvia has a duty to maintain the security of the external border. Aware of its international obligations and the difficult humanitarian situation, Latvia respects both national security interests on the one hand and humanitarian considerations, including its international obligations in the field of human rights, on the other. Latvian services, in co-operation with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), provide humanitarian assistance to third-country nationals in distress at the state border.
Also, according to the Minister, Latvia, together with its partners, advocates the need to adapt the Schengen Borders Code to situations where a hybrid attack is being made on the EU's external borders. Rinkevics emphasized that the future migration and asylum policy of the EU must also provide for a differentiated approach to the challenges caused by humanitarian crises and situations when migration is used to influence countries with hybrid means. The Minister confirmed that in future discussions on migration management and asylum policy, Latvia will advocate the implementation of appropriate solutions.
The Minister pointed out that as a result of coordinated action by Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, the situation on the border at the end of the year was relatively stabilizing, with the Belarusian side moving most migrants away from the border and organizing the return of a small number of migrants. However, as the Minister emphasized, this development cannot be considered irreversible, as the situation is still unresolved.
"Several thousand migrants are still on the territory of Belarus, their efforts to cross the border illegally will continue, and the Lukashenko regime is not ready to end its destabilizing activities, '' Rinkevics said, adding that Latvia, together with partners, will continue to protect its border and the EU's external border, and repel any other hybrid attack attempts.
"The hybrid attack organized by the Lukashenko regime stems from the illegitimate nature of the regime. Every means is being used to secure EU concessions and recognition of the regime's legitimacy. Belarus continues to face political crisis, further restrictions on human rights and fundamental freedoms. Power structures and courts implement the regime's political settings with impunity," Rinkevics explained.