Lithuania is trying to bring a major smuggling problem under countrol which may be linked to the countries of Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko.
The Budget and Finance Committee of the country’s parliament proposed today to its government to assess the possibility of closing border points with either Belarus or Russia, through which the group’s members believe contraband goods are imported.
Upon sharing the proposal, Mindaugas Lingė, the chair of the committee, claimed “large flows” of smuggled goods enter Lithuania through these border areas.
The member of the Homeland Union, Lithuania’s centre-right party, also advocated for his country’s government to decide on additional funding to beef up the equipment available at those checkpoints “where control is not sufficient”.
The Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, Vitalijs Dmitrijev, acknowledged more cases of smuggling have been detected this year when compared to data from 2022.
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He said during the committee session, as reported by Lithuanian daily Kauno Diena: “The value of seized cigarettes this year was more than €42million [£36m], these numbers are considerable.”
However, the volume of seized goods appears to be decreasing, Mr Dmitrijev said.
The politician added some of the smuggling that has been observed recently has been carried out by drones.
But there are currently no plans to shut down the border checkpoints with Belarus and Kaliningrad – a Russian-controlled exclave located between Lithuania and Poland – the deputy minister added.
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He said: “Today, we do not see a critical level, which would be a reason to react by closing one or another border point.”
The increase in smuggling flows is due to the illegal transportation of goods by rail, the official believes, but the installation of a new X-ray detection system in the village of Kena, which borders Belarus, is one of the measures designed to help control large-scale smuggling operations.
Among the reasons Mr Dmitrijev cited as valid to shut down the border points were incidents and illegal immigration.
Indeed, in November 2021 Vilnius threatened to close border crossing points with Belarus as it said migrants were being smuggled into its territory.
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Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite said at the time: “We have decided to increase checks on vehicles crossing into Lithuania. If we see this trend increasing, we will be very seriously considering closing border crossing points with Belarus.”
And in August this year, Lina Laurinaityte-Grigiene, spokeswoman for the Lithuanian border guards, announced to have temporarily closed two border crossings with Belarus amid fears for the risk posed by the Russian mercenary group Wagner, members of which had been shored up in the eastern European country after their founder Yevgeny Prigozhin had launched a mutiny against the Defence leaders at the Kremlin.
Lithuania borders Latvia to the north, the Baltic Sea to the west, Belarus to the east and south, the Kaliningrad Oblast to the southwest and Poland to the south.
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