2021.03.04 16:00

Russian, Belarusian military activity to increase near NATO borders – report

BNS2021.03.04 16:00

Russian and Belarusian military activity near the borders of Lithuania and other NATO countries will intensify this year, Lithuanian intelligence bodies said in a report on Thursday. 

"Belarus' military leadership has called 2021 ‘the year of combat readiness’ due to an intended increase of common Russian-Belarusian exercises and other military events by one third compared to 2020," the State Security Department and the military intelligence said in their annual national security threat assessment report.

"It is highly likely that Russian troops will also be more active in Belarus, and more military activity in the border area usually increases the risk of unintended incidents," the agencies said, noting that the strategic exercise Zapad (West) is scheduled to take place in Belarus, Russia's Kaliningrad region and the whole Western Military District next September.

The report says that "the military power remains the main tool for Russia to maintain and expand its influence abroad", adding that Russia's growing military potential will remain a threat to Lithuania's national security.

Read more: Russia's military creep in Belarus 'chips away' at Baltic defence

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, Moscow said that it aimed to deescalate military tension between Russia and NATO, but its subsequent aggressive maneuvers near NATO borders proved that this rhetoric "only served as an ostensible act of goodwill".

The General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces announced plans to withdraw Kavkaz-2020 activities from the western border. However, the strategic military exercise "had already been planned to take place in the Southern Military District (SMD) – further away from the western borders with NATO," according to the report.

Meanwhile, "numerous other Russian military exercises planned near NATO’s borders were not suspended".

"Russia’s preparedness to exert influence by confrontational – including military – means over its opponents will persist," the intelligence agencies said.

"The build-up and modernisation of the Russian Armed Forces will be visible in the vicinity of Lithuania," they said.

Read more: Russia to deploy new division in Kaliningrad on Lithuania’s doorstep

"Deployment of additional tanks to the neighbouring Kaliningrad Region has been observed for several years already. Newly created motor-rifle division is being developed and the Baltic Fleet is receiving new ships armed with Kalibr missiles."

The report identifies Belarus' unstable regime is another risk.

In an effort to stay in power, Alexander Lukashenko last year accused Lithuania and several other Western countries of interfering in Belarus' internal affairs and "publicly announced an order to reinforce the state border security, deploy more military units towards the West, and conduct a number of demonstrative military exercises", according to the report.

"Although the intensity of Belarusian military exercises was high and adversarial rhetoric harsh, the regime’s activity has not made a significant impact on Lithuania’s and regional security."

"However, the continuation of such rhetoric and the unstable regime’s preparedness to take drastic actions in order to preserve power increase tension in Lithuania’s neighborhood."

Russia may use cargo tracking system as tool

A new unified digital cargo tracking system developed by Russia may be used as a tool to exert influence, the report also said.

The new cargo tracking system is based on GLONASS, the only navigation system allowed to be used by the Russian Armed Forces.

GLONASS was originally created for the Russian military and is managed by Roskosmos, another Russian state corporation.

"It is highly likely that one of the main reasons for developing such a system was Russia's intention to gain control over all cargo transported between Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, China and the EU," the report said.

Data on cargo movement is provided to Russia's Federal Customs Service and the federal transport supervision service Rostransnadzor.

The system is operated by Digital Platforms Development Centre, a subsidiary of RT-Invest Transport Systems, a company associated with the Rotenberg family that is close to President Vladimir Putin, according to the report.

"Russia may exploit data from the tracking system as economic tool against businesses and states – for instance, in tailoring sanctions or advancing Russian business interests," the intelligence agencies said.

There is also a risk that the tracking system developed by the Russian military industry "will be used for data collection to meet the demands of the Russian Armed Forces", they warned.