Lithuanian President worried Russia could ‘swallow’ troubled Belarus as part of embattled leader Lukashenko’s eventual departure

Moscow and Minsk may already be joined as members of the Union State, but Lithuania’s president claims Russia could ultimately take advantage of unrest in the protest-hit Eastern European nation to ‘swallow’ Belarus entirely.

In an interview with DW News on Thursday, President Gitanas Nauseda told journalists that he believes current efforts underway in Minsk to rewrite the country’s constitution are an attempt to buy time for a controlled transfer of power. “I very much doubt that this will lead to free elections in Belarus,” he said, voicing his belief that “people in the 21st century deserve the right to choose who they want.”

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“I am worried about Russia’s intentions to swallow Belarus as an independent state,” he added. Much of Belarus was historically a part of the Russian Empire, while its westernmost parts were absorbed into the Soviet Union after the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939. Since the fall of the USSR, the country has been among Moscow’s closest allies and, in 1999, Belarus and Russia signed the Union State pact that gave citizens of both countries the right to live and travel freely across the region.

Nauseda insisted that new US President Joe Biden understands the importance of both “the Belarusian issue and Russia’s behavior,” and “the security situation in the Baltic region.” However, he also said that the EU should take action to punish Russia for perceived human rights abuses such as the alleged poisoning of opposition figure Alexey Navalny.

“I agree that sanctions should be imposed by the EU,” he said. “A situation arises in which everyone sees that Russia is a threat to neighbors and the region, we can find a common solution and impose sanctions when necessary.”

Nauseda said he hopes Lithuania “can improve our relationship” with Moscow, adding, “but of course, we cannot close our eyes and pretend that nothing happened in Ukraine in 2014, that nothing is happening in Belarus, and that Russia hasn’t played a role in this.”

Last week, Russian Foreign Secretary Sergey Lavrov told journalist Vladimir Solovyov that the accession of the Baltic nations, including Lithuania, to the EU in 2004 had set the bloc on a collision course with Russia. “They have become the most ardent Russophobes and are pulling the EU to Russophobic positions,” he said. “On many issues, the European Union’s solidarity-driven position is determined by a Russophobic, aggressive minority.”

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