Russians might move towards EU if Georgia, Kazakhstan close border – Landsbergis

  • 2022-09-29
  • BNS/TBT Staff

VILNIUS - If Georgia and Kazakhstan close their borders to Russians fleeing mobilization, they can move towards EU borders, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis says.

"Anything can happen, we are looking into the situation, and we are also in contact with the Georgian government and we are talking about their assessment of the security situation, and we are also talking to Kazakhstan. I would not rule out the possibility that if those countries close their borders, in other words, if Russia's land border gets completely isolated, we might see greater movement towards the European Union's border as well," the minister told reporters at the Seimas on Thursday.

This has not happened yet because the Baltic states and Poland tightened the admission of Russian citizens with Schengen visas in time, Landsbergis pointed out.

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.

"That information has reached them, which is why we've seen a drop of practically 60 percent in border crossings, which means that 60 percent of people have chosen not to come to the Lithuanian border at all, knowing that they will have to undergo additional individual checks in line with the Schengen rules, which will make it very unlikely for them to enter the EU territory," Landsbergis said.

If Russians of Lithuanian origin, living in Kaliningrad and fleeing mobilization, wished to come to Lithuania, they would first have to apply for the restoration of their Lithuanian citizenship, the foreign minister said.

Laurynas Kasciunas, chairman of the Seimas Committee on National Security and Defense, said Lithuania cannot accept everyone who wants to come for national security reasons.

"I would like to stress the national security interest. We are probably interested in being firm on this issue, and the question here is whether we are able to ensure that these people, citizens of the Russian Federation, do not cause certain loyalty dilemmas," he said.

"There are estimated 30,000 of them in the Kaliningrad region. When our security services say that they are able to carry out checks and guarantee that there will be no people loyal to Russia among those 30,000, when something starts here, if the "Russian world" called to do something, if I got such a guarantee, I would consider this option. As I have no such guarantees now, I cannot risk our national security," he said.

Kasciunas also pointed out that those who have family members in Lithuania can come.

According to the State Border Guard Service, six Russian citizens have already tried to enter Lithuania since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, claiming that they were fleeing to avoid the call-up. They, however, were refused entry. 

No asylum applications have also been received in Lithuania on these grounds.

The Interior Ministry said on Wednesday asylum cannot be granted in Lithuania solely on the grounds that a person does not want to get involved in Russia's started war. It is not enough to show evidence of conscription to prove a threat, it underlined.

Under the existing asylum granting rules in Lithuania, a person may be granted asylum 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.

Thousands of Russian men have fled Russia since Putin's announced partial mobilization, and scores of them are still leaving for countries that are accepting them, including Georgia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Turkey.

On Tuesday, Georgian Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri said the number of Russian citizens entering the country has recently reached around 10,000 per day.