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2019.10.28 15:00

Belarus to send troops to Lithuanian border in response to US presence

LRT.lt 2019.10.28 15:00

Belarus will beef up its military presence on the border with Lithuania in response to US stationing 30 tanks as part of its Operation Atlantic Resolve aimed at deterring Russia.

“Individual tactical actions will be taken [...] by missile and artillery units, air force, motorised infantry, paratroopers," Belarusian Defence Minister Andrei Ravkov told reporters on Monday, according to the Belarusian state-owned news agency, BelTA.

American armour arrived in Lithuania on October 21 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.

During a meeting earlier on Monday between the Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and the heads of security and defence, Belarusia President Alexander Lukashenko said that Minsk should prepare measures to counter the rotational US military deployment in Lithuania.

However, Lukashenko added that “30 tanks sound ridiculous for our army,” according to BelTA. “We can stand back and take no measures in response as all.”

"We do not rattle our arms. We prepare adequate responses to any movements. What worries me is the precedent,” said Lukashenko. “I do not want troops to be stationed 15 kilometres from our borders, no matter what they are.”

According to the Belarusian leader, “there is no need to call upon the whole world to stand up for Belarus. We are capable of protecting ourselves.”

However, Belarusian Defence Minister Ravkov told reporters later on Monday that Minsk will aim to bring the matter to international attention.

Lithuanian Minister of Defence Raimundas Karoblis said previously 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.

Read more: Lithuania wants a long border with Belarus, not Russia – President Nausėda says

"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.

The Belarusian president said on Monday that “we indeed take note of the statements of European and American politicians [...] that they are peace-loving people and that they are not going to fight with us”.

Lukashenko also said that Belarus should prepare military exercises "in the medium-term" to counter US-led NATO Defender 2020 drills due to take place next year. Their scope and size is similar to the yearly Zapad exercises held in Belarus together with Russia.

Read more: NATO exercises in Baltics to flex muscles unused for 18 years

Belarusian nuclear plant in the spotlight

However, Lukashenko also said the US deployment in one of Lithuania’s two major military ranges in Pabradė, eastern Lithuania, is close to the Belarusian nuclear plant under construction in Astravyets.

“We need to be careful here; God forbid a second Chernobyl,” the Belarusian leader said, according to BelTA, adding that Lithuania understands any emergency would affect both sides of the border.

Lithuania has lobbied in the past several years to prevent the Belarusian nuclear plant from becoming operational. Lithuanian officials say the nuclear plant 50 kilometers from Vilnius is unsafe, an allegation Minsk denies.

Read more: Political discussions failed to rally Lithuanian neighbours against Belarusian nuclear plant