Lithuania to close two checkpoints on Belarusian border

  • 2023-08-17
  • LETA/BNS/TBT Staff

VILNIUS - Thursday is the last day for crossing the border with Belarus through the Sumskas and Tverecius border checkpoints as they will be temporarily closed from Friday.

Under the government's resolution, the two checkpoints will be closed due to geopolitical circumstances and to reduce threats, as well as to be able to move border guards to other checkpoints.

The Transport and Communications Ministry told BNS, the decree, which comes into force on August 18, does not specify the specific closure tome, so it is understood that the decision will come into force at midnight from Thursday to Friday.

The ministry said earlier the temporary closure of the two checkpoints would not substantially change the situation with regard to vehicle lines and freight transportation as the remaining four border checkpoints with Belarus – those of Medininkai, Lavoriskes, Raigardas and Salcininkai – will remain open.

According to the Transport Ministry's resolution, traffic will be diverted to the Medininkai border checkpoint, the largest and most technically equipped of Lithuania's six checkpoints on the border with Belarus. It has an X-ray inspection system, whereas those of Tverecius and Sumskas do not, according to the ministry.

Politicians say the closure comes in response to potential threats due to the relocation of some Wagner mercenaries to Belarus, although the move was approved by the Commission for the Development of Border Checkpoints back in May, more than a month before the leader of the mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, tried to overthrow the Russian military leadership.

Lithuanian and Polish leaders have said there are currently about 4,000 Wagner fighters in Belarus, with some of them stationed close to the two countries' borders. 

Rustamas Liubajevas, the commander of the Lithuanian State Border Guard Service, has said, however, that there could be up to 4,500 of them.

Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite has confirmed that the Baltic states and Poland are discussing the possibility of a full border closure with Belarus, with the final touches to be agreed later this month in Warsaw. In her words, a "regional solution" is being discussed.

Belarus has a visa-free regime for Lithuanian, Latvian and Polish citizens in place since the spring of 2022. 

Belarus' authorities say 170,000 Lithuanians have entered the neighboring country visa-free so far this year. Belarusian border guards have registered a total of over 400,000 visits by Lithuanian nationals since April 2022.

Lithuanian officials warn of attempts by Belarus' authorities to recruit some Lithuanian travelers by using blackmail and psychological pressure.