VILNIUS – Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte says she respects the European Commission's opinion not to fund the construction of a physical barrier on the border with Belarus, underlying, however, that the final decision by EU members states on this issue has not been made yet.
"The European Commission's opinion is the European Commission's opinion, and it's a respected opinion but it’s not the final decision as discussions continue and the final decision will be the one agreed upon," she told a joint press conference with her Baltic counterparts in Vilnius on Wednesday.
In her words, discussions among countries will not be easy: "They will be tense, they will be hot but I have no doubt we will agree on certain decisions that will be acceptable for all countries one way or another and a compromise will be found".
More than 4,200 irregular migrants have crossed into Lithuania from Belarus illegally so far this year. Lithuania and other Western countries accuse the Minsk regime of orchestrating the unprecedented migration influx, calling it "hybrid aggression".
Lithuania has decided to put up a razor wire barrier and build a metal fence along its border with Belarus, with the work expected to be completed within the next year.
BORDER PROTECTION NOT ONLY METAL FENCE
Even without a decision on fence funding, EU funds can be used for other protection measure, for example, surveillance systems, Simonyte said.
The Lithuanian prime minister was backed by her Latvian counterparts Krisjanis Karins: "This is the position of this moment and it could change in the future
The protection of the border is not just the metal fence. There are many other related aspects, such as the surveillance systems, electronics, which are very costly tools. We will be able to make use of this funding in an efficient manner," he said.
The European Commission allocated 36.7 million euros in additional EU budget funding for Lithuania and announced plans last month to allocate another 200 million euros over the upcoming year for Lithuania, Latvia and Poland to bolster border protection.
Meanwhile, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said she backed the construction of a physical barrier on the EU border, adding, however, that not only countries protecting the EU's eastern border but also those protecting the EU's other external borders should get the right to EU funding.
"The external border of the European Union is an important matter for all member states. The EU should allow funding of the construction of the physical border not just in those areas where problems arise, but also for all the member states that have borders with third countries," she said.
At the meeting in Vilnius, the Baltic prime ministers discussed not only Minsk's actions in fueling the migration crisis, but also the tensions on Ukraine's borders and mutual cooperation issues.
Simonyte said the Baltic countries were "absolutely like-minded" when it comes to dealing with regional security challenges.
"Not only do we see the situation in the same way, but we also talk about it in the same way in different international formats," she said. "All of us want the EU and NATO, as the main pillars of our security, to be pillars in practice, both in legal decisions and in practical decisions, and in strengthening the security situation in the region."
Kallas said the three leaders had discussed the possible response of the Baltic states and the Allies to Russia's aggression in Ukraine.
"We do not accept that one authoritarian state is trying to force Ukraine to change its decisions through military means and threats," she said.
Moscow has recently been massing troops along Ukraine's eastern borders, but dismisses Western fears of an invasion.
US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, discussed this issue on Tuesday.
The US leader warned Putin of "strong" Western economic blowback against any Russian attack on Ukraine, while the Russian leader demanded guarantees that NATO would not expand eastward.
In response to the tensions on Ukraine's borders, Karins called on NATO to beef up its forces in the region, especially in the Baltic states.