By Andrius Sytas
VILNIUS (Reuters) -Estonia’s interior minister accused Russia on Wednesday of being involved in “a hybrid attack operation” to bring migrants to its border, aiming to undermine security and unsettle the Baltic state’s population.
About 30 migrants, largely from Somalia and Syria, have attempted to enter Estonia from Russia through the Narva crossing point since last Thursday, Estonia’s interior ministry said. None have asked for asylum and all were turned back, it said.
Estonia has made preparations to close border crossings if “the migration pressure from Russia escalates”, and to deal with migrants if they try to enter outside official crossings, Interior Minister Lauri Laanemets told Reuters through a spokesperson.
“Unfortunately, there are many signs that Russian border officials and possibly other agencies are involved”, said the minister.
“Quite frankly, (the) ongoing migration pressure on Europe’s eastern border is a hybrid attack operation”, he added.
Russian officials were not immediately available to comment.
Estonia’s neighbour Finland said on Tuesday Russian authorities were likely directly involved in more than 500 asylum seekers, mostly from Yemen, Somalia, Syria and Iraq, arriving in a sudden surge from Russia over the past two weeks.
On Monday, the Kremlin denied Russia was deliberately pushing illegal migrants towards the Finnish border and said Russian border guards were carrying out their duties in line with the rules.
Laanemets said migrants were appearing at the Estonian border points “in an orchestrated manner and in groups of 7-11 people”, and Russian border guards were filming with a pre-prepared recorder as migrants were turned back by the Estonians on Monday.
The video then appeared in Russian media within hours, said the minister, adding a request from Estonian border guards to Russian colleagues to stop letting people through without European Union entry documents had not been heeded.
The situation at the Estonian-Russian border is “similar” to that in Latvia and Lithuania at their borders with Belarus, the minister said.
The two countries and Poland have accused Belarus of orchestrating the arrival of thousands of Middle Eastern and African migrants at their borders since 2021. Belarus has denied the allegation.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas in VilniusEditing by Mark Potter, Kirsten Donovan)