Lithuania hopes to avoid “armed provocations” after deploying hundreds of troops on the Belarusian border amid the ongoing migration crisis, Defence Minister Arvydas Anušauskas said on Tuesday.
The upcoming Belarusian–Russian military drills Zapad-2021 “are taking place further from the Lithuanian border [and] I don’t see any suggestions that additional capabilities might be deployed on the Belarusian side”, Anušauskas said.
“We hope to avoid armed provocations," he said, adding that the Lithuanian military “stands ready for any developments".
Hundreds of troops are currently assisting the country’s border guards, the defence minister said, without disclosing the exact number.
“The number is pretty high. It is much higher than the border protection assistance of any other institution. These are hundreds of troops who are now involved, helping to protect the border," the minister told journalists at the presidential office on Tuesday.
Military needs more powers, says president
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda said the military should be given more powers to help stem irregular migration.
"Changes are necessary to enable troops to help to stop illegal migration under the existing extreme situation conditions. Some time ago, we discussed whether the introduction of a state of emergency would give additional mandate to troops to perform this function,” he president said.
“Today we answer this question through changes of specific laws and we are doing that under the extreme situation conditions," Nausėda added.
On Tuesday, he met with Defense Minister Arvydas Anušauskas and Chief of Defence Valdemaras Rupšys.
The president vowed to sign legal amendments as soon as they are adopted by the parliament, because the changes are needed "to swiftly provide the military with additional mandate so that they can help institutions to fight illegal migration".
"Today, the national defence minister presented legal amendments, I do hope that the Seimas will adopts those bills during the extraordinary session next week, and I plan, after getting acquainted with the content, to sign them urgently since I believe that they are both necessary and come in response to the existing situation," Nausėda told reporters.
The military has already provided tents and other equipment to help accommodate the asylum seekers.
Troops are also patrolling the Lithuanian-Belarusian border together with the border guards, and are expected to help guard migrant centres in the future.
Ridas Jasiulionis, the president's spokesman, said before the meeting that the officials "will discuss the involvement of the Armed Forces in carrying out support functions under the extreme situation".
Lithuania has declared a state-level “extreme situation” amid a migration crisis that officials say is enabled by the Belarusian regime, calling it “hybrid aggression” against Lithuania.