Some 699 Real Estate (RE) properties – this is the number of properties acquired by Russian citizens in Lithuania until the 15th of November this year. This figure is only a few dozen less than last year, which politicians say is an extremely serious problem. They argue that while the country has declared a policy of keeping Russians and Belarusians out of the country, it is necessary to ensure that they cannot buy houses or flats. Marius Laurinavičius, a foreign policy analyst who has assessed the situation, sees Lithuania’s neglect of national security for too long, Andresa Repšytė writing at tv3.lt news portal.
“We have had this problem for many years. Unfortunately, we have simply been very negligent about the moral issues of why we should cooperate with that terrorist regime. And the other thing is that we have been very negligent about our national security. <…> Obviously, this problem comes from much earlier, but in wartime, it is simply obligatory to solve it, even if it is a long-standing problem,” Laurinavičius told the news portal tv3.lt.
According to the data of the Register Centre, from the beginning of this year until the 15th of November, Russian citizens have acquired 699 real estate objects (at least 50% of the real estate object has been acquired), compared to 786 last year. On the other hand, Belarusian citizens acquired 376 properties this year and 393 last year.
The Ministry of the Interior (MoI) confirms to tv3.lt that just because Russian citizens own real estate in Lithuania, they cannot obtain a residence permit or a national visa. Possession of real estate is also not a ground for allowing citizens of the Russian Federation to enter the territory of the Republic of Lithuania.
Proposes to prohibit the acquisition of housing by law
The fact that Russian and Belarusian citizens have acquired hundreds of real estate properties in Lithuania, even during the war in Ukraine, according to Dainius Gaižauskas, the deputy chairman of the National Security and Defence Committee (NSDC), shows that the country’s preventive system “does not work perfectly”. “There are loopholes that the current rulers did not see, and that is why we are in trouble,” he says.
“The State of emergency has been in place since February. The last time it was extended, it was stressed that it was to prevent Russians from invading Lithuania because of specific threats posed to us by Russia and its citizens, which is recognised as a terrorist state. What does that mean? It means that anyone who would like to come to Lithuania should be denied access to us. But not only have we not stopped the entry of Russian citizens, but we have seen an increase. It has been tried to say that Russian citizens do not enter Lithuania or that they cross the Lithuanian border in transit and then leave Lithuania. But, unfortunately, the figures show otherwise.
This is why we need a law not to throw the responsibility on border guards during a state of emergency. Instead, a law can provide for more threats and more restrictions on rights. This is a legitimate way better to achieve the objective in one way or another,” said Gaižauskas.
The MEP said that this action must be taken for the citizens of Russia and the citizens of Belarus. “This issue must appear on the agenda and be discussed widely. Access to Lithuania, the acquisition of real estate, business access and establishment must be restricted by law <…> There are many loopholes, and we urgently need to take certain measures. This must be done urgently by those in power, especially now that the European Parliament (EP) has recognised Russia as a terrorist state”, says the Vice-Chairman of the National Security Committee (NSC).
When asked whether this would lead to legal problems, Gaižauskas said, “Legal problems may arise now. Because now, there is only the State of emergency, which restricts people’s rights in one way or another, but the control is left to the border guards. But the legal framework has to weigh up all the pros and cons to achieve the objective by legal means. That is why I am proposing that such matters be dealt with by law. The State must make its position clear”, he said.
Kasčiūnas: the situation should change from the 1st of January
Speaking about Russians and Belarusians who have bought homes in Lithuania, the conservative chairman of the NSC, Laurynas Kasčiūnas, stressed that “a large part of all those who have bought homes in Lithuania is the Russian opposition, to whom we have granted asylum”.
“They should be included in this list because they were also more numerous even before the war when they moved to the West. Let’s bear in mind that those who are against Putin’s regime are also here”, the chairman of the NSC told tv3.lt.
L. Kasčiūnas added that the State must have an instrument to limit such relations. Therefore, the NSC and the Ministry of the Interior have drawn up restrictions prohibiting such transactions during a state of emergency. If the Parliament approves, the amendments to the Emergency Law will enter into force on the 1st of January.
“Since we have declared many things to the European Union (EU), we as a country can only put [people] on the no-entry list. What concerns other things, such as property, and other transactions, is a matter for European sanctions. If the EU decides that such measures (severance of relations, freezing of property, etc.) should be applied, then we would implement it <…> If we adopt such a law, then the State would have to apply such a measure as of the 1st of January. Whether or not it will apply should be assessed. Let us think about this possibility”, Kasčiūnas said.
“The system is broken”
The fact that Russians and Belarusians can freely purchase housing in Lithuania shows that the system is not working, says Mr Laurinavičius.
“I don’t think only those who have residence permits are buying housing. First of all, the problem is with those who already have residence permits in Lithuania. We have let in far too many Russians and Belarusians indiscriminately, and, unfortunately, we are doing so now, as shown by the case of [Russian businessman Sergei] Ivashkovsky, which I myself exposed. This is not an isolated case. The system simply does not work,” the commentator says.
Laurinavičius disagrees that all Russian citizens should be prevented from buying property in Lithuania because of their citizenship. This would contradict the publicly declared policy that we should let in Russians persecuted by the regime.
“If we start discriminating against persecuted Russians or Belarusians, who are actually persecuted, who are enemies of the Putin regime, who can help in the fight against the Putin regime, that would be absurd. The problem is that we have a completely broken system. However, I am now seeing some signs from the Ministry of the Interior that they are trying to revise that system at least a little and make it work. The first sign of this was when Ivashkovsky was deprived of his residence permit in Lithuania,” Laurinavičius pointed out.
When a regime figure acquires property in Lithuania, it is a sign that people who pose a threat to the country’s national security are being let in.
“If people who should not be in Lithuania did not exist, it is natural that they would not be able to acquire any real estate. We sometimes turn the problem upside down, even if we speak correctly. The problem is not that they are acquiring real estate, although that is one of the derivative problems, but that a person in Lithuania threatens national security by his presence. Whether or not he acquires that property is an entirely derivative problem. He will pose a problem to national security in other ways,” Laurinavičius stressed.
Both the Russian and Belarusian regimes, he said, should be seen as a common, major threat.
“I don’t see any difference at all because this is not about nationality. This is not even about countries but about regimes. There is absolutely no difference in meaning between the Russian and Belarusian regimes. It is the same regime, but formally Lukashenko is the governor. But the regime is the same, and the Belarusian regime has no independence from the Russian regime,” Laurinavičius said.