Belarus deploys troops in Lithuanian direction amid NATO maneuvers

Belarus deploys troops in Lithuanian direction amid NATO maneuvers
Belarus moved ground troops up to the Lithuania border in response to NATO exercises and the deployment US armed forces in the region
By bne IntelliNews October 29, 2019

Belarus has "reinforced the nation's border” and "stationed more ground troops in the Lithuanian direction” in reaction to NATO exercises and the deployment of a contingent of US armed forces in neighbouring country near the border with Belarus, the country's Defence Minister Andrei Ravkov said on October 28.

"As part of the response to these events individual tactical actions will be taken in this direction by missile and artillery units, air force units, motorised infantry, paratroopers. Joint actions will be taken together with the border service. There are plenty of measures – measures that have been planned in advance and measures authorised by the head of state during today's meeting," the defence minister added," state news agency BELTA quoted Ravkov as saying.

A number of information and diplomacy measures are being taken in addition to military ones. According to the defence minister, they will allow dragging the matter of the presence of NATO troops near the Belarusian border into the spotlight, the minister added.

Belarusian authoritarian President Aleksandr Lukashenko, a close ally of the Kremlin, is known for his anti-NATO rhetoric. In February, he said that Belarus is going to consider a joint response with Russia if the US deploys new intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe. The statement appeared against a background of an escalating Russia-US dispute over the INF Treaty, which limits short-range missiles in Europe.

Ravkov underlined that that NATO forces in the countries Belarus neighbours with have been increased by several times in the last few years.

"Since 2014 and 2017 respectively Operation Atlantic Resolve and Operation Enhanced Forward Presence staged by NATO primarily due to the standoff with Russia have allowed beefing up these forces in nearby territories in Baltic countries and Poland by 13 times - from some 550 people to 7,300 people. Material assets, combat hardware, and ammunition are being reinforced, too."

On October 11, Lukashenko pledged to prepare a joint response with Russia to major Nato drills in Europe, which should take place next year. "For some reason Nato has decided to arrange a large-scale military exercise near our borders virtually in several months. Thousands of personnel will be deployed on a never-before-seen scale in Poland and Baltic states," Lukashenko said.

"It is abnormal. It does not mean peace has come to Europe and no trouble spots like that will emerge in the future. It is an incomprehensible exercise. The president of Russia and I may have to think about ways to ensure our security in this period. Because the exercise will involve about 30,000 people [Nato troops]. It is a lot."

Lukashenko said that a joint military force exists within the framework of the so-called Union State of Belarus and Russia: "We will have to respond in some way. … We didn't make the first step. We have to respond."