VILNIUS, Lithuania — Lithuania and Poland announced Friday they were recalling some of their diplomats from Minsk, saying Belarus has demanded that they scale down their missions.
Poland was pulling back 30 diplomats, chiefly from the consular section, and Lithuania five. The moves come amid a diplomatic tug-of-war over the recent presidential election in Belarus that is widely seen as having been rigged to give authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term.
Last week, Lithuania and Poland recalled their ambassadors to neighboring Belarus for consultations under pressure from Minsk, and Belarus did the same for its ambassadors to the two nations. In a tit-for-tat move, Minsk also demanded that the two countries reduce their diplomatic staff in Minsk.
"Belarus has made categorical demands to reduce the number of accredited Lithuanian diplomats drastically," Rasa Jakilaitiene, spokeswoman for the Lithuanian foreign minister, said in a statement. "Together with Poland, we have decided to recall our ambassadors for consultations in order to reduce tensions and to preserve a possibility to maintain diplomatic relations."
"We hope that this measure will be sufficient to maintain possibilities of dialogue," she said about the move to recall five more diplomats.
In Poland, Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz said Minsk's demand for scaling down of its mission was a "hostile move that Poland will respond to in due time and due form."
Lithuania and Poland have have been strong critics of the political turmoil in Belarus.
Lithuania has granted shelter to Belarus opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled her country after unsuccessfully challenging Lukashenko in the country's Aug. 9 presidential vote. Officials said Lukashenko won a sixth term in office but opposition members say the election was riddled with fraud and are holding large protests to call for a repeat vote.
Together with the two other Baltic states, Estonia and Latvia, Lithuania and Poland swiftly imposed sanctions against Belarusian leaders, and the 27-nation European Union — which includes the three Baltic nations — eventually followed suit with sanctions. Belarus is not an EU member.