‘Mr. Lukashenko — calm down’ How neighboring countries reacted to Lukashenko’s claims about closing Belarusian borders
On September 17, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko made an appearance at the women’s forum “For Belarus,” and announced the closure of the country’s borders with Poland and Lithuania, as well as the “strengthening” of its border with Ukraine.
“I’ll tell you honestly, we don’t know what they will throw [at us] next. We understand that there are a few tricks left in their arsenal before the release of a hot war. Therefore, we’re being forced to withdraw troops from the streets, as I’ve said already, and to put half of the army under arms and close the state’s border with the West — first and foremost, with Lithuania and Poland. We are being forced to strengthen the state border, to our greatest regret, with our brotherly Ukraine,” he said.
Lukashenko also called on the people of Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine “to stop their crazy politicians”:
“I don’t want my country to be at war. Moreover, I don’t want Belarus, Poland, and Lithuania to turn into a theater of military operations, where issues that are not our own will be resolved. So today, before this hall of the most beautiful, advanced, and patriotic people, I want to appeal to the people of Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine: stop your crazy politicians, don’t let a war break out!”
“In recent days, I have been forced, together with Russia’s president and defense minister, to build up the general defense of the Union State,” the Belarusian president added.
Check out the (enthusiastic) farewell Lukashenko received at the women’s forum
At first, it wasn’t clear what Lukashenko’s statement meant in practice. Poland and Lithuania stated that the passage of people and vehicles across their respective borders with Belarus was continuing as normal.
“I think that now we should look into what this means as well, whether it means the closure of the border for goods, or people, or something else,” Lithuania’s Foreign Minister, Linas Linkevičius, told Lithuanian National Radio and Television (LRT). Linkevičius also expressed concerns over Lukashenko’s statements about a potential war and the transfer of troops to the border, calling it an “inappropriate reaction from an inappropriate person.”
The response from Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov was even sharper. “It seems like Lukashenko has gone completely crazy over his own power and the paranoia surrounding it. He’s talking completely nonsense. He probably got the texts from Putin. […] So drink some water, Mr. Lukashenko, — calm down. Ukrainians are friends to the Belarusians — don’t manipulate by blaming your neighbors. Look for the beam in your own eye,” Avakov wrote on Facebook.
On the morning of September 18, the Belarusian State Border Committee finally commented on the situation at the borders. Judging by the department’s statement, they’ve decided to strengthen border protections, rather than completely close the borders. “The border service and border control have tightened the security of the state border of Belarus,” the Belarusian State Border Committee’s spokesman, Anton Bychkovsky, told the news outlet TUT.by. Bychkovsky added that border crossings are processing entries and exits within capacity limits.
Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya) also commented on Lukashenko’s statements:
“Lukashenko has already scared us with non-existent enemies, accused peaceful people of violence, and real patriotes of betraying the Motherland. But the fact that yesterday he was talking about border closures — this is a new level of detachment from reality. […] Don’t listen or pay attention to what Lukashenko says. He has lost all confidence. All of our neighbors are our friends. All Belarusians are one people,” she said.
Translation by Eilish Hart