Lithuania shuts two Belarus border crossings over threat from Wagner group

Lithuania closed two of its six border crossings with neighbouring Belarus on Friday to counter the risk posed by the Russian mercenary group Wagner, authorities have announced.

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“The Sumsko and Tvereciaus border crossings were closed at midnight”, said Lina Laurinaityte-Grigiene, spokeswoman for the Lithuanian border guards, adding that barbed wire fences would be erected later in the day.

Lithuania, a NATO member that borders both Belarus and Russia, is responding in this way because of growing tensions with its neighbours, including Belarus, which Vilnius accuses of provocations.

This decision is also motivated by the fight against smuggling. The four other crossing points are equipped with x-ray detection systems, unlike the two others closed on Friday.

It also seeks to limit the number of journeys between the two countries. In the first half of the year, Lithuanians crossed the border with Belarus 230,000 times.

Vilnius fears that the authorities in Minsk will take advantage of this to try to recruit spies from among the travellers using blackmail or other forms of pressure.

Relations between the two countries have always been strained, but have deteriorated further since the disputed 2020 presidential election in Belarus and the beginning of the war in Ukraine, which was launched in part from Belarusian territory.

The authorities in Minsk have described the decision taken by their Lithuanian neighbour as “far-fetched”.

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