VILNIUS – Lithuania's decision to close its borders to most Russians was timely as officials from Russian intelligence or military bodies could arrive in the country under the guise of fleeing mobilization and create a network of "sleeper agents", Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite said on Thursday.
"Along with the flow of Russians fleeing mobilization, we could have received threats that could turn against us, because among those pretending to be fleeing the draft, there could be officials from intelligence and military structures or their recruits, who would carry out malicious subversive anti-state activities in Lithuania and create a network of 'sleeper agents' until they get the signal to conduct open anti-state activities," she told the parliament.
As the three Baltic countries and Poland shut down their borders to Russian tourists before the mobilization order, those fleeing mobilization are choosing other destinations, the minister said.
The number of Russians travelers has dropped by around 45 percent since the Baltic countries and Poland imposed the entry ban last week, and around 1,400 Russian citizens who cross the border daily are either truck drivers or people travelling to Kaliningrad, according to her.
"Fleeing Russians are opting for destinations other than our region, because we are demonstrating a tough stance on non-admission," Bilotaite said while answering questions from the parliamentary opposition.
"So, we can see how timely and correct this decision (to close the border) was," she said.
The opposition demanded answers from the minister after official statistics showed on Tuesday that almost 10,000 Russian citizens had crossed the Lithuanian border over the past week despite the entry ban.
Bilotaite told the parliament on Thursday that the region had seen a 45 percent decline in the number of Russian travelers since the closure of the borders.
"Russian tourists do not dare to come here. About 1,400 Russian citizens now cross the border daily, but 45 percent of them are truck drivers and another 48 percent are Kaliningrad transit passengers," the minister said.
"In ten days, 220 people have been refused entry in Lithuania, 93 in Latvia and 262 in Estonia," she said. "Tourists fleeing mobilization are not seeking asylum in Lithuania either; six cases of tourists claiming to be evading mobilization have been recorded and all of them have been denied entry."
Thousands of Russian men have fled Russia since President Vladimir Putin last week announced the partial mobilization of reservists. Scores of them are leaving for countries that are still accepting them, including Georgia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Turkey.
The Lithuanian Interior Ministry has said recently that asylum cannot be granted in Lithuania solely on the grounds that a person does not want to get involved in Russia's war and it is not enough to show evidence of conscription to prove a threat.
Lithuania's legislation allows granting asylum to a person if it is established that they have a well-founded fear of being persecuted for refusing to perform military service during a conflict, if it entails the commission of crimes against peace, humanity or war crimes.
As of September 19, only Russian citizens who meet the criteria set by the Lithuanian government are allowed to enter Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland, including diplomats, dissidents, employees of transport companies, family members of EU citizens, as well as Russians with residence permits or long-term national visas from Schengen countries.
Russian citizens can also continue to transit through Lithuania by train to and from the Kaliningrad region.