Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda has said that conversations between Western leaders and Alexander Lukashenko are inevitable to resolve the humanitarian migrant crisis.
In an interview with LRT TV aired on Thursday evening, the president said that "any recognition of Lukashenko as president of Belarus is out of the question, because the 2020 elections were illegitimate, rigged, and therefore the result cannot be recognised".
"The sanctions will continue, because we see no reason [to expect] the regime to make any substantive changes.," Nauseda said.
"But as to solving the humanitarian problem with Mr Lukashenko, perhaps I will allow myself to draw an analogy with an airplane hijacker. Do we speak with them or just allow the passengers aboard the plane to be shot? That means we need to talk, because there is a problem that Lukashenko has created. It is almost impossible or extremely difficult to resolve it without Lukashenko's involvement," he said.
The first signs of de-escalation of the situation are already visible today, according to the president.
"Today we see that [...] people are returning to their homeland, a plane full of passengers is taking off from Minsk Airport and flying people back home. This means that the situation is de-escalating, even if only slightly," he said.
Nausėda also said that his office had been informed of the content of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone conversation with Belarus' authoritarian leader this week, dismissing media reports that the EU and Belarus have agreed to share responsibility for caring for migrants as "Lukashenko's own narrative".
Aimed at resolving humanitarian crisis
"I see only one solution to the problem: to return people home, healthy and alive," Nausėda said.
"Merkel's aim was to talk about the problem, about the humanitarian tragedy, which is what is happening on the Polish border, and also on the Lithuanian border, and to try to resolve this problem with Mr Lukashenko. Because without his involvement, it would be very difficult to put these people on planes and send them back to their country of origin," he said.
Merkel asked what Lithuania "would consider important to say on this occasion" as she informed Nausėda about her upcoming conversation with Lukashenko, according to the president.
"We stressed [...] that there can be no agreements on migration, on migrant burden-sharing, because this is an incentive to continue these activities, and that Lukashenko should by no means be promised recognition," Nausėda said. "Also, that migrants should be returned home, which was the main goal of the conversation."
"These were the red lines [...] that are important for Lithuania and other countries in the region," he added.
Belavia must remain on sanction list
Nausėda said he had no confirmed information that Belarus' state-owned airline Belavia might be removed from the EU's fresh sanction list.
"First of all, it is wrong to comment on rumors. I do not have such confirmed information," the president said, commenting on Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis' remark on Wednesday that attempts were being made to take the air carrier off the sanction list.
"Belavia must remain on the list, and we have to make sure through diplomatic-political channels that it is not removed", Nausėda added.
Several thousand migrants gathered on the Belarus side of the border with Poland last week, setting up makeshift camps and attempting force their way into the neighbouring country.
Fearing a similar scenario, Lithuania last week declared a state of emergency along its border with Belarus and at irregular migrant accommodation facilities.
Over 4,200 irregular migrants have crossed into Lithuania from Belarus so far this year, and almost 7,000 more have been pushed back by the border guards.
Read more: Migration crisis in Baltics and Poland