Lithuania declares more than 1,000 Belarusians and Russians to be national security risks

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — Lithuania declared more than a thousand citizens of Russia and Belarus living in the country to be threats to national security on Friday and said it was stripping them of their permanent residency permits.

The decision comes after the government asked the Russians and Belarusians to answer a questionnaire that included questions about their views on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the status of Crimea, the Ukrainian territory which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.

Lithuania, a Baltic nation that declared its independence from the Soviet Union more than 30 years ago, is a democracy that belongs to NATO and the European Union. It has been a strong backer of Ukraine and also a place of refuge in recent years for many who have fled an authoritarian crackdown in neighboring Belarus and increased repression in Russia.

The Migration Department said Friday that it had established that 1,164 Belarusian and Russian citizens residing in Lithuania posed a threat to national security, a decision that was based on an evaluation of public and non-public information. It said 910 of those were Belarusian citizens and 254 Russian citizens.

How people answered the questionnaire was taken into consideration in deciding whether to grant or deny residence, according to the Migration Department, the government office that carried out the survey.

Those deemed to be national security threats are only a fraction of the Belarusians and Russians living in Lithuania. According to the Migration Department, more than 58,000 Belarusian citizens and 16,000 Russian citizens are currently residing in Lithuania. They are required to renew their residence permits every year to three years, depending on the application status.

Those stripped of permits can appeal the decision in court. Others will have up to a month to leave the country, according to the Migration Department.

There was no immediate reaction from the Russian or Belarusian governments.

Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said the opposition was in touch with the Lithuanian authorities on the issue, and that the Belarusian opposition sought to “prevent a strike on innocent people who are not associated with the regime.”

“I understand that Lithuania’s actions are dictated by national interests and security, because the Lukashenko regime poses a direct threat to our neighbors,” Tsikhanouskaya said in a written statement to The Associated Press, referring to Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko, an ally of Russia.

“The vast majority of Belarusians do not support Russia’s criminal war against Ukraine and continue to help Ukraine, many are fighting the dictatorship in the underground. It is very important that they can find a safe haven in Europe if they are in danger.”

Viktor Voroncov, a businessman who moved from Russia several years ago, learned Lithuanian and obtained citizenship, said he agreed with the move.

“I know many Russians who served in the Soviet and later in Putin’s army. They are married to Lithuanian wives, they live here, maintain close contacts with comrades in arms back in Russia and are spreading Kremlin propaganda constantly,” Voroncov said.

“Lithuania is a democratic country and tolerates different views. Even their propaganda was OK until the war started, but things have changed and they must go,” he said.

Lithuania also has an ethnic Russian minority that makes up about 5% of the population. They are citizens of Lithuania and were not required to answer the questionnaire.


Associated Press writer Yuras Karmanau in Berlin contributed to this report.