The Belarusian government has ordered a radical reduction of the Lithuanian diplomatic representation. It accused Vilnius of “unfriendly actions” after Lithuania's Foreign Ministry accredited exiled Belarusian opposition figures as the country's “democratic representation”.
Lithuania's acting chargé d'affaires in Minsk Asta Andrijauskienė was summoned to the Belarusian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday. According to reports by the Russian news agency Interfax, Minsk protested Lithuania's “systemic unfriendly actions in grave violation of the agreement on friendly neighbourhood”.
The Belarus government also accused Lithuania of “unfriendly, confrontational initiatives”.
As one of the instances, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry quoted Lithuania's recent decision to accredit the team of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, an opposition figure who has been in exile in Vilnius since last August, as the Democratic Representation of Belarus.
Lithuanian Vice Foreign Minister Mantas Adomėnas told LRT TV on Tuesday that Vilnius was ordered to cut its diplomatic staff in Belarus to one representative to handle consular affairs. This, according to Adomėnas, means a de facto expulsion of the embassy.
Lithuania will respond in kind, Adomėnas suggested.
The Foreign Ministry later confirmed it was preparing a response.
“Countermeasures are being prepared. We will provide details later,” Vytautė Šmaižytė-Kuliešienė, spokeswoman for the foreign minister, told BNS on Wednesday morning.
The Lithuanian ambassador to Belarus, Andrius Puidokas, has been operating from Vilnius since last October when he was recalled from Minsk for consultations. This followed Minsk's order to cut down the embassy's staff. Since then, the embassy has been headed by the chargé d'affaires.
Lithuania does not recognise the results of last year's presidential election in which Belarus autocratic leader Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory. Vilnius has vocally supported the country's opposition which demands a new free and fair vote.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda has commented that the Minsk government is further isolating itself.
“It only shows the Belarusian regime's wish to self-isolate and become even more dependent on it big neighbour [Russia],” the president told reporters on Wednesday. “These effort to self-isolate and close itself from the external world ends badly in most cases, badly for the country and for its people.”
According to Nausėda, the Belarusian government's actions show that interests of the Belarusian people and civil society “are the things the Belarusian regime is interested the least”.
“The regime is only taking care of its survival at any cost,” he said.
Lithuania will ask its allies for solidarity, said Žygimantas Pavilionis, chairman of the parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs.
His committee is holding a meeting on Friday to discuss positions with the Foreign Ministry, he added.
“Meanwhile, since yesterday, I have been aligning certain positions with those of foreign committee chairs of our allies to have parliaments' political position before our minister leaves for Brussels to raise those issues,” Pavilionis said.
He would not disclose any detail about the conversations, but said he expected results and a joint position as early as this week.