VILNIUS - The head of Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya's office has urged Lithuanians not to be tempted by Minsk's recently provided opportunity for visa-free entry to this country.
Speaking with BNS on Tuesday, Valery Kavaleuski said Belarus was doing this for a number of purposes: to provide financial support to the country's economy hit by the existing Western sanctions, to exploit it for propaganda purposes, and to ultimately use it for intelligence purposes.
"You need to understand that when you go there, the special services assess you in their own way, they will think how to use you to influence your countries. This could include some conversations about how bad things are with you, but there could also be recruitment attempts because they need agents," Kavaleuski said.
By offering visa-free travel to Lithuanians and Latvians, Minsk also expects an inflow of funds, he said.
"After all, he did not invite you because you are bringing in some of your European values and respect for democracy. He wants you to come and leave your money. The money that you buy petrol, diesel or any other product with, because it is cheaper there, and this money is going to support the regime", the head of Tsikhanouskaya's office warned.
The Belarusian authorities particularly welcome Westerners buying Belarusian tobacco products in large quantities in order to transport them illegally, he pointed out, adding that this kind of behavior creates a strange contrast when Lithuanians and Latvians are among the most supportive of Ukraine, but when they come to Belarus, they leave their money behind and thus "support the regime that is fighting against Ukraine", Kavaleuski said.
In his words, Minsk is also exploiting this situation for active propaganda, stating that many Lithuanians are allegedly coming to Belarus to because of poverty.
"Lukashenko himself says: "They have gone completely poor there, they have nothing left – no buckwheat, no salt. Come to Belarus, we will feed you", meaning that the propaganda starts to mock Lithuanians and Latvians, portraying you as beggars who are begging, who have nothing to eat in Lithuania and Latvia", he said.
In mid-April, Minsk introduced a one-month visa-free scheme for Lithuanian and Latvian citizens, forcing Lithuania's State Security Department to warn Lithuanian citizens that Russian and Belarusian intelligence services were stepping up their effort to recruit Lithuanian citizens.
The visa-free regime has now been extended until the end of this year.
Lithuanian intelligence services say that when selecting a potential target, not only a person's ability to collect and provide information is assessed, but also their motivation to cooperate or what the services consider to be the person's vulnerability.
The Belarusian State Border Committee reported on its website on Monday that 22,454 Lithuanian citizens have made use of the visa-free regime so far this month.