LITHUANIA DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
IN THIS ISSUE:
- Upcoming events in Lithuania for Friday, August 25, 2023
- Lithuania records no illegal border crossings from Belarus
- Lithuanian defmin receives Ukrainian state award
- Lithuanian army, border guards to hold joint exercise in Salcininkai District
- Lithuania's CNSD chair: Wagner to plunge into infighting after presumed death of its elite
- Lithuania reports 68 new COVID-19 cases, no deaths
- Belarusian activist Karach appeals Lithuania's decision not to grant her asylum
- Lithuania leads in Europe in terms of mortality rate from HIV-related diseases (media)
- EUR 4 mln worth of smuggled cigarettes found in Poland-bound truck in Lithuania
- We see Wagner's fragmentation, exit from Belarus to Russia – Lithuanian defmin
- Convention on Cluster Munitions limits Lithuania's defense – defmin
- Lithuanian defmin keeps mum on probe into his disclosed tank info
- Lithuania hands in note to Belarus over cutting down of border surveillance camera poles
- Lithuania’s SBGS chief says he is surprised by flows of irregular migrants to Latvia
VILNIUS, Aug 25, BNS – The following events are scheduled in Lithuania for Friday, August 25, 2023:
SPEAKER OF THE SEIMAS Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen to have breakfast with her Swedich counterpart Andreas Norlen in Sweden at 8 a.m.; to visit the Royal Palace at 10 a.m.; to take part in a simultaneous chess exhibition at the Lithuanian Embassy in Sweden at 4 p.m.
VILNIUS, Aug 25, BNS – Lithuanian border guards have in the past 24 hours recorded no attempts to cross into the country from Belarus illegally, the State Border Guard Service (SBGS) said on Friday morning.
Latvia reported 53 attempts at illegal border crossings on Thursday, and another 175 irregular migrants were not allowed into Poland on Wednesday, according to the latest available information.
A total of 1,562 irregular migrants have been barred from entering Lithuania from Belarus at non-designated places so far this year. Over 11,200 irregular migrants were turned away in 2022.
Lithuanian border guards have prevented around 20,900 people from crossing in from Belarus since August 3, 2021, when they were given the right to turn away irregular migrants. The number includes repeated attempts by the same people to cross the border.
The SBGS says that illegal migration to Lithuania and the EU is being facilitated by Belarusian officials.
Almost 4,200 irregular migrants crossed into Lithuania from Belarus illegally in 2021. However, the vast majority of them fled Lithuania once they were allowed to move freely.
VILNIUS, Aug 25, BNS – Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas was on Thursday awarded the Order of Prince Yaroslav the Wise of the third degree by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The state award was conferred for the minister’s significant personal contribution to the strengthening of international cooperation, support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Ukrainian State and for promoting the Ukrainian State in the world.
Other Lithuanian and foreign politicians, public figures and military officers have also received the Order of Prince Yaroslav the Wise of various degrees.
VILNIUS, Aug 25, BNS – Lithuanian border guards and the Armed Forces will on Friday hold a joint exercise “Cover–2023” in the so-called Dieveniskes Loop in Salcininkai District, which is part of Vilnius County and is located in southeastern Lithuania.
The tactical exercise, organized by the State Border Guard Service (SBGS), will train border guards and the troops to operate according to the scenarios set out in the updated state border cover plan.
According to the SBGS, officers from the Polish, Latvian and Estonian internal affairs systems will participate in the exercise as observers.
The plan adapted to new threats was approved by the government in early July.
The Interior Ministry says the updated cover plan will ensure a rapid reinforcement of forces at the Lithuanian border in the event of a high threat level, without the need for additional inter-institutional coordination.
Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite has said that two scenarios are planned for the exercise.
The first scenario concerns illegal migration, "in case of some unusual situations", and the second involves training on what action to take in the event of "a certain military hybrid threat" at the state border.
Lithuanian and Polish leaders have said there are currently about 4,000 fighters of the Russian mercenary group Wagner in Belarus, with some of them stationed close to the two countries' borders.
Rustamas Liubajevas, the commander of the Lithuanian State Border Guard Service, has said, however, that there could be up to 4,500 of them.
VILNIUS, Aug 25, BNS – The Wagner mercenary group will find itself mired in internal strife after the presumed death of its elite, Laurynas Kasciunas, chairman of the Committee on National Security and Defense (CNSD) of the Seimas of Lithuania, has said.
"Apparently, the death of the entire Wagner’s top elite will now plunge the organization into infighting," he told LRT Radio on Friday.
"First of all, who will be their new leaders, what will be the role of this organization. I still think that Russia needs Wagner primarily because of its predatory missions in Africa, which are, of course, profitable, but at the same time are a huge lever of Russian influence," he said.
The Russian services have said that Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner mercenary group, was on the passenger list of a plane that crashed in Russia on Wednesday, but his death has not been officially confirmed.
According to Kasciunas, the fight for Wagner will be the Kremlin's top priority.
He believes that Russia could try to replace Prigozhin with a leader loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
VILNIUS, Aug 25, BNS – Lithuania has recorded 68 new coronavirus infections and no deaths from COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, official statistics showed on Friday morning.
The number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals now stands at 30, including two ICU cases.
The 14-day primary infection rate has edged up to 21.9 cases per 100,000 people, with the seven-day percentage of positive tests at 18.6 percent.
The number of new coronavirus cases hit the peak in Lithuania in early February 2022 when more than 14,000 new infections were recorded daily.
Around 1.19 million people in Lithuania have tested positive for COVID-19 at least once.
Some 68.5 percent of people in the country have received at least one coronavirus vaccine jab so far, according to the statistics.
VILNIUS, Aug 25, BNS - Belarusian activist Olga Karach has appealed against the Lithuanian Migration Department's decision not to grant her asylum on the grounds of her links to Russian intelligence, her lawyer confirmed to BNS on Friday.
"The appeal has been filed," Rytis Satkauskas said.
He refrained, however, to disclose the arguments of the complaint, saying that the asylum case is not public.
The appeal was filed with the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court, the lawyer said. A court spokeswoman has confirmed to BNS that the complaint was received on Thursday.
Last week, Lithuania's Migration Department refused to grant asylum to Karach on the grounds of threats to national security, citing the SSD report that her residence in the country poses a threat to national security due to her links with Russian intelligence.
Nevertheless, the Migration Department at the same time granted the Belarusian activist, hwoie leads Our House, an international center for civil initiatives, a temporary residence permit in Lithuania on humanitarian grounds, and it can be extended.
With Karach's case pending, she has the status of an asylum seeker and can stay in Lithuania.
Speaking earlier this week, Karach confirmed that she had been warned by SSD officers last spring about her contacts with Russian intelligence, but she refrained to elaborate.
The activist has been receiving residence permits in Lithuania since 2014 and applied for asylum last year.
Our House says it provides humanitarian, psychological and other assistance to Belarusians both in their homeland and in Lithuania, and also monitors human rights violations.
The organization was declared extremist by Minsk in 2022 while Karach was put on the "terrorist list" by the Belarusian KGB in 2021.
VILNIUS, Aug 25, BNS – Lithuania matches the European Union (EU) average in terms of the number of new HIV infections, but ranks last in Europe in terms of the mortality rate from HIV-related diseases, the LRT Radio has reported.
Professor Raimonda Matulionyte, an infectious disease specialist, says that the biggest problem in Lithuania is that a significant proportion of people diagnosed with HIV do not seek specialist care and treatment.
"Less than half of the patients ever diagnosed with HIV in Lithuania visit a medical facility, according to official statistics. This is actually a very bad indicator, ... the worst in the European region," she said.
The Demetra association, which cares for people living with HIV and AIDS in Lithuania and their relatives, has already carried out almost 8,000 HIV tests this year and plans to bring this figure to more than 15,000 by the end of the year.
According to UNAIDS and the Center for Communicable Diseases and AIDS, nearly 4,000 HIV-positive people were registered in Lithuania by November 2022. The virus causes AIDS, a disease that claims around 100 lives every year.
VILNIUS, Aug 25, BNS – Lithuanian customs officers have found 4 million euros worth of smuggled Belarusian cigarettes inside a Poland-bound truck in Lithuania, the Customs Criminal Service said on Friday.
On August 20, A DAF truck driven by a Belarusian citizen arrived at the Raigardas road post and declared that he was taking 11.6 tons (290 rolls) of polyester fiber to Poland via Lithuania. When customs officers checked the vehicle, they found the polyester rolls stacked at the back of the semi-trailer to disguise smuggled cigarettes, the service said.
On Thursday, it emerged that a total of 1,934 boxes (967,000 packs) of cigarettes were inside the vehicle and they included 11 types of Belarusian cigarettes.
The DAF driver was detained for two days but was later released on a 15,000 euro bail. The pre-trial investigation is ongoing.
The inflow of smuggled goods has gone up recently, the service says.
"While in the past, consignments of smuggled goods of this size (around one million packs) used to arrive several times a year, and now we intercept them every month," the report states.
On August 6, Lithuanian customs officers also detained a consignment of 891,000 packs of cigarettes worth around 3.5 million euros in Salcininkai. Moreover, 1 million cigarette packs worth more than 4 million euros were seized in Kybartai on July 29, and 850,000 packs of illegal cigarettes were seized in Prienai on June 30.
THE VILLAGE OF POSKONYS, Salcininkai District, Lithuania, Aug 25, BNS – There's clear fragmentation within the Wagner mercenary group and its members are leaving Belarus for Russia after the purported death of its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas says.
On Friday, he called the security situation at the border and in the region "stably unstable".
"What is happening with the Wagner group in Belarus now, I would say, this is still new information, and it will probably not take long for it to start reaching us because we can already see the changes, we can see the fragmentation, we can see the attempts to leave Belarus for Russia. All sorts of things are happening," the minister told reporters in Salcininkai District.
"We are closely monitoring that situation and we are receiving information not only from our institutions, not only from the Second Investigation Department (military intelligence – BNS), but also from our partners," he said.
A private jet linked to the Wagner group crashed near Tver in Russia on Wednesday, exactly two months after Wagner's mutiny in Russia, killing all 10 people on board. Prigozhin and his right-hand man, Dmitry Utkin, are believed to have been among the passengers.
The information on Prigozhin's death, however, has not yet been conclusively confirmed.
Asked what the fate of the Wagner might be, Anusauskas refrained to predict it.
"I can only say that every prigozhin will be replaced by a new prigozhin", he said. "The place may be simply taken by other people with other ties with Russia's Defense Ministry, and that's it. But the situation, again I stress, we talk a lot about this group: yes, it's dangerous, (...) but the overall security situation is dictated by the war in Ukraine, and all the other actions are linked to that," the minister said.
VILNIUS, Aug 25, BNS – The fact that Lithuania is a signatory to the Convention on Cluster Munitions limits its ability to defend itself against this type of weapons, Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas says.
"I would just like to point out that Lithuania is the only state bordering Russia that has signed this convention. As Russia uses cluster munitions, we cannot even train specialists to clear them, to deal with them, because we cannot even bring them in, have them, keep them and use them under this convention," the minister told reporters in Salcininkai District on Friday.
He believes certain derogations are needed.
"In this case, the Geneva Convention provides for the use of all types of armaments only against military targets, and cluster munitions are subject to exactly the same provisions, i.e. they cannot be used against civilians," Anusauskas said.
The motion to withdraw from the convention has been drawn up already and will be coordinated with other institutions, the minister said.
Lithuania should withdraw from the Convention on Cluster Munitions, Anusauskas said last Sunday, adding that the country needs to do so „in order to acquire and use" such munitions.
The Convention, ratified by Lithuania in 2011, bans the use, production and acquisition of cluster munitions and lays down specific obligations to address the humanitarian consequences of these weapons.
THE VILLAGE OF POSKONYS, Salcininkai District, Lithuania, Aug 25, BNS – Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas refrains to comment on the pre-trial investigation, launched by the Prosecutor General's Office, into his disclosed information on the purchase of tanks for the Lithuanian army.
Speaking in early August, Anusauskas called the probe "a normal step" and expected impartiality and a thorough examination of the situation. However, he stressed that this could be difficult due to political pressure.
Asked on Friday what he meant, the minister told reporters: "I meant your question to politicians as comments by politicians constitute political pressure, so let's leave it to the prosecution service to do its job till the end".
"I have already answered. You know, that's all I said," Anusauskas said in Salcininkai District today when asked if he had been summoned for questioning already.
The Prosecutor General's Office said in early August it had opened a pre-trial investigation to collect more information, and it has to do with additional procedures.
Anusauskas found himself in hot water when he disclosed information on the planned tank acquisition for the country's army after the meeting of the State Defense Council.
President Gitanas Nauseda said at the time the information disclosed by Anusauskas on the planned purchase of German Leopards was tagged as being of limited use.
For his part, the minister said he did not disclose classified information, adding that it might look similar to one. Speaking later, Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte voiced trust in the defense minister, adding that the SDC's decision on the establishment of an army division and the planned purchase of tanks in this context was known to the public.
By Greta Zulonaitė
VILNIUS, Aug 25, BNS – Lithuania's Foreign Ministry has handed in a note to Belarus’ chargé d'affaires ad interim to express protest over the cutting down of surveillance camera poles at the border this week.
“The Foreign Ministry has strongly demanded that Belarus provide an explanation for this incident as soon as possible and take all necessary measures to prevent the recurrence of such incidents in the future," the ministry said in a press release on Friday.
The incident was recorded on Tuesday, when two persons from Belarus illegally crossed into Lithuania.
According to the State Border Guard Service (SBGS), those individuals had battery-powered cutting tools and cut down two poles with surveillance cameras on and then fled back to Belarus.
The incident took place in a border section covered by the Kabeliai Frontier Station close to the village of Musteika, Varena District, in the southern part of Lithuania.
The SBGS said this was the third such incident recorded this year.
A pre-trial investigation has been opened into illegal crossing of the state border and destruction or damage to property.
POSKONYS VILLAGE, SALCININKAI DISTRICT, Aug 25, BNS – The large numbers of irregular migrants that have recently been heading to Latvia from Belarus are surprising, Rustamas Liubajevas, commander of Lithuania's State Border Guard Service (SBGS), has said.
"We are definitely seeing an increase, especially at the border with Latvia – the numbers in recent days have been really surprising, with more than a hundred attempts to cross the Latvian-Belarusian border illegally recorded every day," he told reporters on Friday.
Over the past week, the number of migrants attempting to cross into Latvia from Belarus has varied from 11 to 143 per day. In Lithuania, the respective number ranged from a few to a dozen or so.
"This is why our Latvian colleagues have taken decisions to reinforce border protection, and a decision has also been taken to reinforce the Latvian Border Guard Service with [resources of] other institutions. We also react flexibly, we assess the situation and, depending on that situation and the level of risk, we take decisions on mobilization of other institutions," Liubajevas said.
At the same time, Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite reiterated that migrants might be trying to take advantage of the fact that Latvia has fewer measures in place at the border with Belarus than Lithuania.
"Latvia still does not have a physical barrier, does not have border surveillance systems and has only recently deployed the army. So all these decisions implemented in Lithuania mean that our border is simply closed, while in Latvia the situation is different," the minister said.
As regards the flows of migrants trying to cross into Poland, she said that it was more convenient to travel to Western European countries from Poland.
The SBGS said on Friday morning that Lithuanian border guards had in the past 24 hours recorded no attempts to cross into the country from Belarus illegally. Meanwhile, Latvia reported 53 attempts at illegal border crossings on Thursday, and another 175 irregular migrants were not allowed into Poland on Wednesday, according to the latest available information.
The influx of migrants from Belarus started in 2021. The international community claims that it is being orchestrated by the Belarusian regime in retaliation for the sanctions imposed.