Th, 1.06.2023

Belarus is an unpredictable opponent

Henry-Laur Allik
, ajakirjanik
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Kai Kaarelson
Kai Kaarelson Photo: Konstantin Sednev

Estonian Ambassador to Lithuania Kai Kaarelson says that despite its extraordinary challenge, Lithuania will not collapse.

July 6, the Day of Statehood or the Day of King Mindaugas, is a holiday in Lithuania and also in the Estonian Embassy in Vilnius where the staff can take a day off. Only Estonia’s Ambassador Kai Kaarelson, her dog Sulli and the deputy head of the embassy Maris Tippo receive the reporter on Lithuania’s holiday.

Although wearing face masks indoors is mandatory in Lithuania, Ambassador Kaarelson says that it is not obligatory on Estonian territory. Considering the troubled times, Kaarelson believes that the migration crisis does not pose a threat to Estonia. She stresses that this is certainly not a conflict between Belarus and Lithuania only.

Q: How does the Estonian Ambassador view the current crisis situation in Lithuania?

KK: I think that the likelihood of it presenting a direct threat to Estonia is presently rather theoretical. Again – we cannot really predict what will happen tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. Yes, if we look at these figures, what takes place today and at the sudden growth in recent days, it cannot be ruled out-

But as the Estonian ambassador I cannot say that Lithuania’s ability to handle that migration is so limited that these people would start moving towards Latvia and Estonia. They apparently are not striving to move northward, there is another direction where they are trying to go and therefore in my opinion there is no reason to fear that Estonia would be the first destination they would attempt to reach.

Q: Are the Lithuanian government and the people worried?

KK: This indicator changes every day. Initially as the first migrants began to arrive there were no signs of major worry but I would say that concern is really more apparent now. Especially during the past weekend.

It seems to me that Lithuania, having supported the Belarus civil society for more than ten years, is very determined hat they are doing the right thing and have considered the possibility of some sort of setback. First of all I sense a real determination among the Lithuanian leaders to handle the crisis on their own although by now several countries and Frontex (the European border and coast guard authority) have come to help.

Kai Kaarelson.
Kai Kaarelson. Photo: Konstantin Sednev

Q: But still, Lithuania can only deal with the symptoms and has no resources to combat the disease initiating from Belarus.

KK: We should understand that the present problem is not a problem between Belarus and Lithuania but a retaliation of the Belarus regime in a broader sense. On the one hand the Lithuanian state has been highly active in supporting the opposition’s civil society; on the other hand the imposed European Union sanctions have had a wider effect on the illegal immigration situation in Lithuania.

Q: Lithuania has declared an emergency. What does it change precisely, was its declaring an overreaction or was I overdue?

KK: Emergency actually means an opportunity to arrange certain matters domestically and for the central government to ask for the local governments’ support and to allocate funds.

This does not mean that there are elements similar to the Covid emergency or that the Lithuanian state cannot cope and is beginning to collapse; on the contrary – this is simply necessary for the consolidation of resources.

Q: In other words, an administrative emergency?

KK: Yes, to make carrying out these processes easier than in a regular situation. 3

Q: What can Lithuania expect in the coming weeks?

KK: Predicting something is a thankless task and since we know that Belarus is an extremely unpredictable opponent and that we do not know what they are thinking, there could be a number of further tricks or otherwise, the problem could have a quick solution which we cannot imagine.

Lithuania is also attempting to deal with the primary causes of migration. The primary cause is obviously located in Belarus. What Lithuania is attempting to do is to approach these people in Iraq and spread the word over the social media that Lithuania is not a country where one should come and that this is false information: conditions there do not offer a solution acceptable to these migrants.

The rate of rejection of asylum appeals is also very high – 90 percent. The trick of entering Lithuania and residing there as a refugee would not work.

Q: This means that Lithuania must now begin creating ties with Arab and African countries?

KK: This is right in some sense. To start with, the translation problem requires Lithuania to ask for Iraq’s help to send here people who could communicate with the migrants who have no ID allowing their identification and who speak no other language. This is one reason why Lithuania needs a working relationship with these countries.

Q: In your diplomatic opinion, is it still possible to negotiate with Belarus?

KK: There are a large number of the so-called Belarusian civil society representatives in Lithuania and in Vilnius, representatives of the opposition, Svyatlana Tsikhanovskaya’s office is here. If you talk to these people or Belarusian students, based on such conversations one obviously cannot say that all hope is gone and there is nothing left to do.

The Belarus society has shown its position quite clearly, in what direction they want to move on, and a solution to all that must cone some day, yet bit does seem that the balance of power is presently tilted in favor of the regime. How the situation will be solved? I cannot guess at present.

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