VILNIUS - Russia might trigger an influx of illegal migrants to the EU's eastern countries in retaliation for the existing sanctions imposed over its invasion of Ukraine, Rustamas Liubajevas, commander of Lithuania's State Border Guard Service, warned on Wednesday.
The West accused the Belarusian regime of a similar response last year when thousands of migrants from the Middle East and Africa started flooding to the EU's eastern border, calling it a hybrid attack.
"In the context or background of such unprecedented sanctions, the Russian Federation is likely to also take hybrid measures against the EU. Not only against Lithuania. I am talking now about our entire eastern external border of the EU, from Norway to Slovakia or Poland," he told reporters at the Seimas on Wednesday.
"This is one of the options where Russia can take action like the Belarusian regime last year in order to impact the principled position of EU countries and the EU," he added.
Last year, more than 4 000 people arrived in Lithuania after a sharp increase in the number of migrants trying to cross the border from Belarus.
Almost 10,000 have been refused entry to Lithuania since last August when border guards were given the right to push irregular migrants back. Neighboring Poland and Latvia have also faced an influx of migrants.
Lithuanian border guards earlier reported a new trend of migrants trying to enter Belarus not from their home countries or Turkey, but via Russia.
"We still have a small number of such attempts, but we are seeing more and more", Liubajevas said. "This could be the beginning of such a trend."
The SBGS chief refrained from predicting future flows of irregular migrants, but insisted that "the overall situation is not very optimistic".
"The fact that more and more measures will be taken against the Russian Federation and against Belarus, at any moment both regimes can take advantage of this and try to attack again (...) using illegal migration as a weapon," Liubajevas said.