Under the clear skies of Sumskas nestled at Lithuania's border with Belarus, several dozen cars lined up on Saturday, awaiting passage.

But what for years has been a convenient journey to get cheaper goods and pay family visits will likely soon turn into a more challenging endeavour.

Next week, Lithuania will shut two of its six border checkpoints with Belarus, including the crossing in Sumskas.

The decision came as a response to escalating tensions between the neighbours, with Vilnius warning of a provocations threat by Minsk -- and the Wagner fighters now based in Belarus following their short-lived rebellion in Russia.

For casual travellers, the move will mean extended waiting times at the remaining checkpoints, which will now also be shared with buses and trucks.

Some Lithuanians say they would need to abandon their excursions to the neighbouring state completely.

Among them is 73-year-old pensioner Jadvyga, who crosses the border on her bicycle several times a year to buy cheaper medication.

"They sell this drug for one and a half euros ($1.64), while here (in Lithuania) it costs from 10 to 12 euros," she told AFP while she queued at the Sumskas checkpoint.

"But now I won't go," she added.

- 'Fail to come back' -

Lithuanian authorities say around 230,000 Lithuanian citizens went to Belarus in the first half of 2023 despite political tensions and multiple warnings from the government to stay away from the authoritarian state.

The surge in illegal migration from Belarus to the European Union, coupled with Minsk hosting Russian tactical nuclear weapons and letting Moscow use its territory to conduct strikes on Ukraine, has left Lithuania uneasy.

This week, the government installed banners at all border checkpoints with Belarus bearing the inscription "Do not risk your safety -- do not travel to Belarus. You may fail to come back."

"By granting shelter to the Wagner military group, Belarus has become a state that harbours a terrorist organisation," Lithuanian Deputy Foreign Minister Mantas Adomenas told reporters.

"New security challenges have emerged and we must take them into account," he added.

The officials in Vilnius say Minsk may be trying to recruit some travellers to Belarus for espionage, exert psychological pressure, or even blackmail the Lithuanian citizens by performing checks on their phones and social media.

"Every citizen of Lithuania who goes to Belarus must assess all the risks, including those to their health and life," said Rustamas Liubajevas, head of the border guard service.

- 'People will suffer' -

But for many Lithuanians travelling to Belarus, the new restrictions only cause anger and disappointment.

Sergey, a construction worker who declined to give his full name, used to go shopping in Belarus once a month -- and said he had never encountered anything that Lithuanian authorities warn of.

"What can happen there? It's nonsense, it's funny," he told AFP.

The middle-aged man said political tensions are "useless" to ordinary people.

"It would be more beneficial to foster friendly relations with our neighbours, but for some reason they make a confrontation. Who is it good for?" Sergey added.

33-year-old Violeta Porsatovic said she didn't back the new restrictions, but felt there was nothing she could do about it.

"Regular people will suffer. How can we support this if we are suffering?" she said.