Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has ordered to draw up plans in response to US troops deploying in Lithuania, the Belarusian state-owned news agency, BelTA, reported on Tuesday.
“We don't want that. It is up to Lithuania to decide whether it needs these additional tensions between our friendly nations,” said Secretary of Belarus’ Security Council Stanislav Zas.
American armour arrived in Lithuania on Monday for a rotational deployment as part of US Army Europe Operation Atlantic Resolve, aimed at deterring Russia. The battalion-sized force is bringing 30 Abrams tanks, 25 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs) and 70 wheeled vehicles, and will stay in Lithuania until spring 2020.
Zas told BelTA that Belarus cannot remain a simple observer. “Any country [would] work out response measures," he said, addind that proposals on how to respond will be presented to Lukashenko next week.
Speaking about the upcoming regional NATO exercises in 2020, Zas said “it is important to understand the background the exercise will be held in. All of us can see growing tensions between centers of power.”
Defender 2020, the largest NATO drills since Cold War, will see around 40,000 allied troops train in the Baltic states and Poland.
Alexander Lukashenko has also previously criticised the upcoming NATO exercises, that mirror the scale of the yearly Zapad drills held by Russia and Belarus in the Baltic region, saying “it is abnormal [and] does not mean peace has come to Europe and no trouble spots like that will emerge in the future.”
Lithuania reassures Belarus
However, Lithuanian Minister of Defence Raimundas Karoblis said there's no threat to Belarus from the West.
"Lithuania is directly interested in the preservation of Belarus' independence and territorial integrity, as well as the development of economic cooperation,” he said.
"Therefore, I can assure that at least from the Western side, there's no military or any other threat to Belarus's sovereignty. The battalion-size army unit, to be deployed in Lithuania until spring, cannot pose any threat to Belarus' security, therefore, we really hope Belarus' reaction will be adequate," Karoblis said.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda has previously said that there are clear attempts to reduce Belarus' sovereignty, and that Vilnius would like to see a long border with Belarus, not Russia.
Read more: Lithuania wants a long border with Belarus, not Russia – President Nausėda says
Lithuanian defence minister said that the rotation of NATO forces, including those of the United States, is usual practice, especially after 2014.
"Such rotations took place earlier and there will be more of them in the future. We believe it's an importance deterrence factor, increasing security in our region," the minister said.
According to Karoblis, Lithuanian MoD and the United States published information on the incoming battalion in advance, including the time, weaponry and equipment and the deployment duration.
"We plan to follow this policy of openness in the future as well. And we expect the same from our neighbors," Lithuanian defence minister said.
Karoblis underlined that the large-scale NATO exercises are unrelated to Belarus, and also said that the Belarus and Russia are invited to observe the exercises.
"We hope that the Belarusian side will use this opportunity next year," Karoblis said in a comment sent to BNS by his spokeswoman.