VILNIUS – Lithuania has asked the European Commission to suspend cross-border projects with Belarus to avoid the Lukashenko regime being funded this way, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said at the parliament on Tuesday.
"Today, Lithuania would face fines if it refused to take part in these projects under the previously signed contracts. Therefore, we have turned to the European Commission over the suspension at this stage of these projects especially where EU funds could be used against civilians, not to help them but probably to hurt them, to avoid any financial sanctions," the minister said.
"We believe that it’s important and that it's fairly big amounts of money. These projects are not being implemented yet but the deadlines are approaching for us to start implementing them with the regime," he said.
In 2015, the European Commission approved Latvia, Lithuania and Belarus' cross-border cooperation program with a budget of 81.4 million euros, including the EU's contribution of 74 million euros.
"Cross-border projects are a European tradition uniting countries. Until projects are of civilian nature, we can enjoy their mutual benefit: school repairs, roads, border crossing points, various civilian infrastructure that is beneficial for both sides. But since we have clearly seen and have information and have no doubt that the other side might use part of projects for really not civilians purposes, (…) we should not be taking part in those," Landsbergis said, having in mind the case when drones bought several years ago were later used for controlling opposition rallies.
"It means that these are projects of dual purpose and Lithuania should not take part in them," the minister said.
Landsbergis also said Lithuania had asked Western companies not to fund Belarusian projects.
"As far as we know, major state projects in Belarus, like the Astravyets nuclear power plant's 2nd nuclear reactor, are partly technically supplied by Western companies. Western companies do not do that for free, and, as we know, Lukashenko and his regime do not have a lot of money. They can borrow from Russia and China, but, as far as we know, one cannot discount the possibility that they are also being funded by Western banks," the Lithuanian foreign minister said.
Landsbergis also informed lawmakers about the objective to have the European airspace closed for planes of Belarusian airlines.
"Lithuania made such a decision yesterday. Today, there are signals in Brussels that it will also be a European decision," Landsbergis said.
In his words, a pan-EU compromise sanction list has been agreed.
"We have been discussing the fourth sanction package for more then several months now. I cannot disclose any details as the information is classified but the discussion has been moving forward slowly as there's been no major enthusiasm and backing for that. We have managed to agree on a certain compromise list but it has not been approved yet. There's no better occasion than today to approve the list," the Lithuanian foreign minister said.
In his words, The EU Foreign Council is set on Wednesday to start discussing possible further sanctions for the Belarusian regime.