The sabre rattling by Belarus towards Lithuania has upped after Moscow announced last Sunday that around 9 000 Russian troops would be stationed in Belarus as part of a «regional grouping.» The authoritarian Belarusian President, Alexander Lukashenko, said the troops were necessary to stave off supposed threats from Ukraine and the West – Lithuania, too.
Lukashenko alleges Ukraine is plotting to attack his country, accusing Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine of training Belarusian radicals «to carry out sabotage, terrorist attacks and organise a military uprising in the country.»
Valerijus Revenka, head of the International Military Cooperation Department of the Ministry of Defense of Belarus, provided more details on the accusation this week: «On the territory of Lithuania, with the direct support of the Lithuanian government, the so-called Unified Transitional Government was created and is functioning, with the goal of overthrowing the currently functioning government of the Republic of Belarus.»
But Vilnius is not stepping back.
Furthermore, this week, as a Belarusian-owned sanatorium in Lithuania complained that its potential clients are being denied visas, Lithuania’s Foreign Ministry said in response that it suggests coordinating who gets them with the office of Sviatlana Tikhanovskaya, a Belarusian opposition leader based in Vilnius. She fled Minsk after Lukashenko cracked down on protestors, following the rigged presidential election in late 2020.
The increasingly harsher rhetoric from Minsk does not surprise Lithuanian analysts, however.
«With the war in Ukraine going unfavourably, the regimes in Russia and Belarus are desperate to hold grip on power. Being just one of many Russian governors, Lukashenko has few choices and all of them are hinged on how long the Kremlin regime lasts, so the upped ante is natural,» Liutauras Gudžinskas, associate professor of comparative politics at Vilnius University, told BNN.
For Putin, he says,
it is important that the Ukrainians feel insecurity on their border with Belarus, which the deployment of the Russian troops does, the analyst says.
Asked if Belarus has more trump cards in its hand than just orchestrating arrivals of undocumented migrants who attempt to trespass the Lithuanian-Belarusian border in hopes for a better life in the EU, Gudžinskas pondered that it may have been exhausted by now.
«I’m not an expert of defence, but I’d rather be more concerned about the nuclear weapons stationed recently by Russia in Belarus,» he underscored.
Over this Wednesday, 19 October, Lithuanian border guards turned away 28 migrants attempting to cross into the country from Belarus illegally, the State Border Guard Service (SBGS) said.
A total of 9 324 irregular migrants have been stopped from entering Lithuania since January.
Lukashenko admitted in late August that his military’s Su-24 war planes had been modified to carry nuclear weapons and that Minsk would react immediately if the West – and Lithuania – caused it any problems.
Lukashenko acknowledged he had agreed the move to modernise Belarusian warplanes with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Belarus, a staunch Russian ally, does not have its own nuclear weapons. With the nuclear arsenal in Belarus, Lukashenko has warned: «It’s not a good idea to escalate things with Belarus because that would be an escalation with the Union State (of Russia and Belarus) which has nuclear weapons. If they start to create problems… the response will be immediate.»
But Lukashenko’s fuming does not impress Gudžinskas.
«As an independent player, Belarus does not exist for now. And Lukashenko’s eyes are set just on Putin, which, indeed, makes the situation in our neighbourhood quite tense,» he says.
Afore-mentioned Revenka said that Russia will also send to Belarus about 170 tanks, up to 200 (other) armoured vehicles and up to 100 howitzers and mortars with a caliber exceeding 100 mm.
Reportedly, Russian units will be deployed at four training grounds in the east. Belarusian media has reported this week that Belarusians are sent mass summonses to military commissariats.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Russia of «trying to involve Belarus directly in the war» at the latest G-7 meeting.
He called for the organisation of an international observer mission on the border between Ukraine and Belarus. Although Lukashenko is an ally of Putin, and he allowed Moscow’s forces to use Belarusian territory to launch a military operation against Kyiv in February, however, Belarusian forces have not participated in the war directly so far.
But for Liudas Mažylis, a Lithuanian euro-parliamentarian, Belarus, in fact, it is «the most active war participant.»
«As much active as Russia. Just the authoritarian (Belarusian) regime attempts to imitate it has not fully engaged in it. Indeed, Belarusian troops are not sent to the front lines, but the engagement level is substantial – Belarus allows Russia to use its airspace as well as the land, assists it with its military and other infrastructure, all which makes it a full participant of the war. Besides, in all, around 60 thousand Belarusian troops are on active duty, which was justified by a fairy tale-like explanation that Ukrainians terrorists can ostensibly invade Belarus. The move also keeps the Ukrainians on alert, forcing them to regroup their military and protect the Belarusian-Ukrainian border in the south,» the MEP told BNN.
Relations between the EU and Belarus have been minimal since the rugged presidential election in Belarus in September of 2020, he says.
The euro-parliamentarian is concerned that, amid the war, the Russian propaganda is still profuse in the West.
«There are no questions regarding the solidarity of European states and their leaders for Ukraine, but it is no secret that there are individuals, certain interest groups and political movements in Europe that are trying to manipulate the discourse of the war in Ukraine, specifically raising doubts about the crimes of the Kremlin and the perpetrators of the war,» Mažylis accentuated.
Lithuanian border guards have sent some 17 400 people back to Belarus since 3 August, 2021, when they were given the right to deny entry to irregular migrants. The number includes repeated attempts by the same people to cross the border. Almost 4 200 irregular migrants crossed into Lithuania from Belarus illegally last year.
Lithuania calls the unprecedented influx of migrants from Belarus a «hybrid attack» by the Minsk regime.