Lithuania gears up to secure EU border during World Cup

Lithuania’s border guard held exercises on Wednesday focused on securing the European Union’s external border as thousands of football fans were expected to cross the Baltic state to reach World Cup matches in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.

Sandwiched between Poland, Lithuania and the Baltic Sea, Kaliningrad will host four matches next month, starting with a game between Croatia and Nigeria on June 16.

“We predict 16,000 football fans could cross Lithuania in transit trains for games in Kaliningrad enclave”, border guard spokesman Giedrius Misutis told AFP.

Russia fans are expected to travel to Kaliningrad by car from mainland Russia via Belarus and Lithuania using special travel documents.

Fans from other non-EU states, like Nigeria and Morocco, will need Schengen visas to travel through Lithuanian EU territory to reach Kaliningrad to watch their teams play.

“We are rehearsing scenarios which include conflicts with fans so that we are prepared to resolve them quickly,” Misutis said.

Additional border guards will be deployed for the World Cup, running from June 14 to July 15, to check documents while helicopters will monitor Russian transit trains rolling through Lithuania, he added.

Long at odds with its Soviet-era master Moscow, EU and NATO member Lithuania argues that Russia will exploit its role as World Cup host for propaganda purposes.

“I don’t think it was right to hold the World Cup in Russia, notably after Ukraine was attacked soon after the Sochi Olympic flame went out” in 2014, Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told AFP on Wednesday.

“The World Cup will be a propaganda event for Moscow,” he said, adding that “for Russia, sport is a cynical way of placing itself among democratic nations — cynical because Russian actions undermine democratic values and Western rules.”

Tensions between Lithuania and Moscow have been high since the Ukraine crisis and the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

The recent diplomatic spat over the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain has done nothing to calm matters.

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