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10-02-2023

Lithuania and Latvia are developing a united response to hybrid threats

Minister of the Interior Agnė Bilotaitė met with the new Latvian Minister of the Interior, former Latvian Prime Minister Mari Kučinski. This is the first foreign visit by a Latvian Interior Minister. The ministers discussed issues of border security and civil protection, as well as the migration situation on the border with Belarus.

According to Minister Bilotaitė, today, thanks to complex measures, the situation at the border has been stabilised, with Latvia and Poland, as well as Lithuania, taking the position that irregular migration across the EU border is not allowed. The Minister stressed that the likelihood of provocations at the Lithuanian border remains high, as hybrid attacks and instrumentalisation of migration by Russia are not ruled out, and information on new flight routes to Minsk and Kaliningrad is being monitored closely.

According to Minister Kučinski, Lithuania was chosen for his first foreign visit not by chance, but because both countries share a common challenge and concern about the situation on the border with Belarus. He stressed that Lithuania's lessons in border protection are particularly relevant for Latvia. The Latvian delegation will visit the border today to inspect the physical barrier and the border surveillance systems. Lithuania's border with Belarus has been reinforced with a 530 km of fence and 360 km of barbed wire, and modern border surveillance systems monitor almost the entire border with Belarus.

The Latvian Minister of the Interior expressed interest in the draft amendment to the Law on the State Border and its Protection initiated by the Ministry of the Interior as a response to the hybrid attack. The draft aims to regulate by law the application of a redirection policy during a state-level emergency situation. The redirection of irregular migrants is already legalised in Estonia and Finland, and the Latvian Minister stressed that this draft law, prepared by the Ministry, is very important to ensure that the legal framework is the same in Latvia.

According to the Minister, the need for such a law has become clear in the current situation.

"The reality is changing and we are moving from border protection to border defence. We need not only a physical border, but also a legal border. The existing tools are not sustainable or sufficient, so we are proposing a redirection policy, while at the same time providing a whole set of safeguards. Redirections are only possible in times of emergency, declared by the Government, and each case of irregular migration is assessed individually. These safeguards justify that our proposal is proportionate", the Minister said.

The Ministers also discussed the strengthening of civil protection, which is driven on the one hand by Russia's increasing aggression and open threats to use nuclear weapons, and on the other hand by the unsafe Astravas nuclear power plant, run by a hostile and unpredictable authoritarian regime in Belarus, which is launching hybrid attacks against its neighbours.

The Minister presented the revival of civil protection in Lithuania and the work that has already been done - the Law on Crisis Management has been adopted, which provides an integrated crisis management system, the National Crisis Management Centre has been established, and preparedness officers have been established in every ministry and municipality. Crisis management has moved from the departmental to the national level.

Latvia is also strengthening civil protection by setting up a Civil Defence and Disaster Management System Committee. Strengthening civil protection is one of the objectives of this Latvian government.

In the context of the ever changing geopolitical situation, cooperation between Lithuania and Latvia has further intensified. The two countries are cooperating in all areas of the internal affairs system - state border protection, migration, the fight against organised crime, law enforcement, civil protection and fire safety. Joint projects, investigations, operations and regular exchange of information and best practices are carried out at the level of the services under the Ministry of Interior.