Linas Jegelevičius for BNN
Like Poland, Estonia and Latvia, Lithuania counts the second week of entry block for most Russian citizens with EU visas. However, over the first week of the ban, in effect since September 19, the Lithuanian border guards allowed 9 896 Russians to cross the border and only a mere 153 Russians were rejected entry, the State Border Guard Service (VSAT) has announced.
«This is just mind–boggling, incredible. The ban is in effect, but, for some reason, it does not work. It would be just preposterous to think that all those Russians came here on humanitarian grounds or are diplomats,» Audrius Butkevičius, Lithuania’s former Defence minister and a signatory of the 1990 Act of the Re–Establishment of the State of Lithuania, told BNN.
Agreeing, Vytautas Bruveris, a political analyst and TV host, says the big number shows him «clearly» that many Russians willing to come here find ways to get around the rules.
«That should ring alarm bells for the Lithuanian authorities,» he told BNN.
Officially, only those who meet the criteria approved by the Lithuanian government are allowed to enter Lithuania. These include Russian diplomats, dissidents, employees of transport companies, family members of EU citizens, as well as Russians with residence permits or long–stay national visas from Schengen countries. Russian citizens can also continue to transit through Lithuania by train to and from the Kaliningrad region.
Most polls show that roughly seven out of ten Lithuanians support the ban. The majority of analysts are also in its favour.
«I am in favour of such ban due to symbolic, yet essential political and moral motifs. I see it as an exhortation to the rest of Europe to follow into our footsteps. I understand, however, that, practically, working out a single, EU–ide policy banning Russian citizens is perhaps impossible. Also, those who want to get into Europe will probably by using all the loopholes and the exceptions,» Bruveris said.
«On the other hand, I guess the (Russian) regime does not miss those who left or are about to leave. They leavers just do not play into its hand. If they stayed in the country (Russia), they could become part of the protests (against mandatory draft and the war),» he added.
Butkevičius agrees with Bruveris and says that those who left could have potentially become anti––Kremlin rioters and protestors. «So, from that standpoint, it is understandable why Putin did not move a single finger to bar them from leaving. He clearly understands their explosive nature,» he emphasised to BNN.
He says he is in favour of the ban «fully»: «Already with the war raging, many of Russians would come to Lithuania and the other European countries, note this, still wearing Z–marked shirts or St. George’s ribbons (the two–coloured black and orange St George’s Ribbon, as well as the letters «Z» and/or «V» mark (the Russian authoritarian regime and Russia’s imperialistic quest – L. J.).
«We just do not need that kind of people here. First of all, for our own security,» Butkevicius underscored.
However, there are some who oppose the ban.
Kęstutis Girnius, associate professor at Institute of International Relations and Political Science at Vilnius University, says the decision is wrong: «The Kremlin and the Russian propagandists will undoubtedly take advantage of the ban, portraying the West as very hostile towards all Russians. It is Putin who wins from the situation,» the analyst underlined to BNN.
That by closing their borders to Russians fleeing military draft European countries are making a «big mistake” and playing into Vladimir Putin’s hands also believes Russian political analyst and anti-Kremlin journalist Fyodor Krasheninnikov.
«If the Ukrainian authorities and those helping Ukraine want fewer Russian soldiers on the front, they should help people avoid conscription and flee Russia, not close the borders. Closing the borders with Russia is a big mistake, a big help to Putin,» Krasheninnikov, who fled Russia in 2020 and currently resides in Lithuania, has told Lithuanian national radio LRT.
«Obviously, Putin’s main problem is the lack of soldiers at the front. There is not enough manpower to hold the front in Ukraine. Despite all the tales of universal support [for the war], no one wants to serve voluntarily, even for money. That is why there is a last resort – to declare a forced mobilisation and make people go to war. That is what the Russian government is now doing,» Krasheninnikov said.
Several incidents took place on Lithuania’s border with Belarus when Russians dissatisfied with the decision not to allow them to enter tried to stay in Lithuania, Giedrius Mišutis, spokesman for the border guard service, SBGS, said.
For comparison, in Latvia, 48 Russians out of 2 075 arrivals were refused entry during the first week of the ban. In Estonia, 155 Russian citizens were refused entry, 10 236 were allowed to enter.
The Lithuanian leaders also defend their decision to bar Russian citizens from entry into Lithuania.
Lithuanian Foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, who is also the leader of the ruling conservative party, the Homeland Union–Lithuanian Christian Democrats, said in his Twitter tweet: «Lithuania will not be granting asylum to those who are simply running from responsibility. Russians should stay and fight. Against Putin.»
Defence minister Arvydas Anušauskas has also said that the military call–up will not be enough for Russians avoiding mobilisation to get asylum in Lithuania.
Meanwhile, Lithuanian Prime Minister Igrida Šimonytė also said that it was not «Lithuania’s duty, nor that of other neighbouring countries, to save all Russian citizens from the mobilisation».However, Russian citizens of Lithuanian descent – those holding Lithuanian passports, too – are able to come to Lithuania.
To ramp up its defence, Lithuania has announced this week it will spend an additional 148 million euros on defence this year and buy Joint Light Tactical Vehicles (JLTV), HIMARS rocket systems, radars, ammunition. Currently, Lithuania allocates 2.52% of its GDP for the military.