Assessing when Lukashenko’s hybrid attack might run out of steam: options for retreat are already being explored

Dainius Žalimas
Dainius Žalimas DELFI / Kiril Čachovskij

Nearly two months have passed since a state of emergency was imposed on Lithuania’s border with Belarus due to an influx of migrants. On December 1, the Government proposed to extend it for another month, reported.

Dainius Žalimas, former chairman of the Constitutional Court and dean of the Faculty of Law at Vytautas Magnus University, discussed the appropriateness of this measure, the possibility of a full closure of the border with Belarus and the indirect threats to Lithuania from the migrant crisis on the Lietuvos Rytas’ TV programme Nauja Diena on December 1.

Possible measures

Former chairman of the Constitutional Court Dainius Žalimas is convinced that the state of emergency is already bearing fruit. According to the professor, the most important result is that doubts about the legality of some of the measures taken by Lithuania are reduced.

“I am referring to the indefinite detention of persons in certain places, so to speak, as well as to the push-back measures.

We are also seeing a reduction in attempts to cross the border, although, of course, this is not up to us, but to the dictator’s choice. He apparently has different tactics in this plan.

We cannot say that it is because of Lithuania’s measures, but a certain, slight return of migrants to their countries of origin is taking place,” Žalimas said.

The professor is convinced that the need for a state of emergency on the border with Belarus has not yet disappeared.

“There is no reason to believe that there has been any change in Belarus’ policy of sending migrants to neighbouring countries. If Poland is the main target today, there is no telling when Lithuania might become a target again,” he stressed.

With migrant attempts to enter Lithuania in trucks on the rise, Interior Minister Agnė Bilotaitė hinted last week that border crossings could be closed.

Žalimas suggested that such a measure could be applied flexibly. “If such attempts to enter Lithuanian territory become systematic, I think it would be quite adequate to apply this measure,” the professor said.

Žalimas does not rule out a complete closure of the border with Belarus if the migrant crisis escalates. Deputy Interior Minister Kęstutis Lančinskas mentioned this measure in mid-November.

“This should be a measure adequate to the situation. If the incursions into Lithuania really become massive, violent, similar to what happened in Poland […], then a complete closure of the border would be a possibility,” he said.

One main objective

Žalimas is convinced that the situation remains threatening and that Lithuania should remain vigilant in the future. In assessing the possible consequences of the migrant crisis, the professor points not only to the direct but also to the indirect threats posed by the Lukashenko regime.

“The threats were visible, and they may have been somewhat subdued due to Lithuania’s response, paradoxical as it may be, which was quite effective, though perhaps not always legal.

Indirect threats include attempts to destabilise the situation inside the country, namely through the prism of the migrant crisis: to lure in certain politicians who believe that it is necessary to negotiate with Lukashenko. That, by the way, is what we have.

And also to try to create a crisis by accusing the Lithuanian Government of being incapable of coping, by accusing it of various alleged double standards, by discrediting the Lithuanian Government internationally – that, while it is supposedly fighting for human rights, it is also committing massive human rights abuses.

There may be many parallel objectives. In fact, the aim is to destabilise Lithuania as a democratic state and possibly even to have a much more favourable government in the future,” said Žalimas.

Assessing when this hybrid attack might come to an end, Žalimas said that Lukashenko is already looking for avenues of retreat.

“We see that there is another flight that is taking place, bringing people back to Iraq. It is likely that Lukashenko already understands that he will not be able to break through the rather united position of Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, and the unity of the European Union, although there may be various discussions. I believe that this crisis should be resolved within six months and that the number of migrants on Belarusian territory should decrease.

Their permanent presence [in Belarus], even, dare I say, double standards, that migrants are allowed to do what Belarusian citizens are not allowed to do, even a kind of freedom of association, freedom of expression, certainly not in a very positive context, I think that it is not worth keeping thousands of people on the territory of his own country and that he is going to look for ways to retreat,” Žalimas summarized.
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