Lithuanian formin calls proposed new restrictions on Belarusians "nervous reaction"

  • 2023-12-05
  • BNS/TBT Staff

VILNIUS – Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis says his fellow party members' recent proposal to put restrictions for Belarusian nationals on a par with the existing ones for Russian citizens is a "nervous reaction".

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte insists that the issue needs "a deeper discussion".

Such remarks by the leaders of the ruling conservative Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats were made on Tuesday in the Seimas in response to the proposal by three HU-LCD members to tighten the existing restrictions on Belarusian citizens, putting them on a par with those for Russians, with an exception for Belarusians coming to do highly-skilled jobs.

The MPs says the move come in response to warnings from the State Security Department about the increased activity of the Belarusian KGB and the growing workload in vetting incoming people.

"As for what colleagues are registering, this is understandably more of what is called a nervous reaction… in response to the expressed threats. What we need to do is probably to have a discussion and a conversation, which is a bit more complex than a single response that can be done immediately," the foreign minister said.

The proposed amendments to the Law on Imposing Restrictive Measures Regarding the Military Aggression Against Ukraine foresee that the acceptance of applications for temporary residence permits by Belarusian citizens via an external service provider abroad would be stopped, as is currently the case for Russian nationals. An exception would only apply to Belarusian citizens who intend to do highly skilled jobs included in the list of high value-added professions with a shortage of workers in Lithuania.

The MPs point out that the restrictions would only apply to the first temporary residence permits, i.e. to new arrivals. Meanwhile, old workers who have already received temporary residence permits once in Lithuania would be able to extend them without any restrictions.

Without new residence permits, Landsbergis says, "the border throughput from Belarus to Lithuania remains the same" as Belarusians with Schengen visas from other countries "have the possibility to come and stay for 90 days".

"These registered amendments, unfortunately, do not solve this problem, although it is one of the potential security concerns," Landsbergis said, adding that the situation should be taken seriously and a discussion should be launched, but quick fixes should not be expected where "we put a band-aid on it".

Landsbergis say that the situation has been known for many years and one of the biggest problems is the people who regularly travel between Lithuania and Belarus.

For her part, the prime minister says the issue needs to be tackled in a comprehensive way.

"I think we need a deeper discussion about what problem we are trying to solve as it is not only a question of the workload for our institutions, that someone thinks there is a very heavy workload, maybe it is difficult to see everything, but there are also issues of a wider context," she said, adding that this includes Lithuania's attitude towards Belarusian society and immigrant workers.

"If these immigrant workers left the labor market, then we would probably have a very long and difficult discussion with our business associations that believe that migration needs to be facilitated," the prime minister pointed out.

For her part, Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite believes sanctions for Russian and Belarusian citizens should be the same, especially after the recent SSD warning about the increased activity of the Belarusian KGB.

Lithuania has now a law on restrictive measures for Russian and Belarusian citizens in place, but the latter are subject to fewer restrictions.

Russians and Belarusians are restricted in their ability to obtain Lithuanian visas and electronic resident status, but Russians have additional restrictions on their ability to enter Lithuania, to acquire real estate and their applications for residence permits are temporarily rejected.