Lithuanian Defence Minister Arvydas Anušauskas dismissed as fake news a Polish media report that Belarusian troops may enter Lithuanian territory during Zapad 2021 military drills later this month.
“I don’t know the source of that information, therefore, I cannot consider it as information. In my view, that article reflects a trend of disinformation reports showing up in our information space in one or another way,” he said.
Citing unnamed sources, the Dziennik Gazeta Prawna reported on Thursday that Belarusian troops “might invade several kilometres into Lithuania” during the joint military drills with Russia later this month.
According to the Polish daily, NATO is preparing for such an eventuality constituting “a gross violation of Lithuania’s sovereignty”. The report said that the Kremlin might thus attempt to test NATO’s red lines.
The article described a scenario, in which Russia’s president Vladimir Putin would distance himself from such a provocation, if it were to take place, and would pretend that it was solely the initiative of Belarus. Moreover, he would propose to act as an intermediary in resolving the dispute.
The Lithuanian defence minister stressed that Lithuania and NATO were capable of identifying “provocations, disinformation and refraining from getting involved in the games of the other party”.
“In particular when there are attempts to manipulate people’s fears. I’d call not to be intimidated,” Anušauskas said.
The minister said that “more” fake news might be expected during the Zapad maneuvers. He also reiterated that Lithuania was ready to counter any threats.
“We have sufficient capabilities, we are strong and get more than ever support from our allies, we have analysed a wide range of various scenarios and worked out our response plans,” he told BNS on Thursday.
NATO said that it “does not comment on information from anonymous sources”.
However, Oana Lungescu, spokesperson for the alliance, told BNS that “NATO is monitoring Zapad 2021 very closely”.
“All nations have the right to exercise their forces, but nations should also respect their commitments to transparency. Currently, NATO has not been invited to send observers to Zapad 2021,” she said. “Since the end of the Cold War, Russia has never opened an exercise for mandatory OSCE Vienna Document observation. This is despite the fact that observations are mandatory when exercises exceed 13,000 troops.”
According to the spokesperson, NATO calls on Russia and Belarus to act in a predictable and transparent way, in line with their international commitments.
“This is especially important when there is increased military activity along our borders, to reduce risks and avoid any accidents or incidents,” Lungescu added.
The Zapad 2021 maneuvers will be held primarily in western Russia and Belarus on September 10–16.