US moves tanks in Lithuania closer to Belarus border as Russia plans joint drills
Iran Press TV
Sunday, 13 September 2020 10:36 AM
The United States has ordered its military forces and equipment in Lithuania to move closer to the Belarusian border as Minsk and Moscow gear up for a joint defense drill.
In a televised interview Sunday on STV channel, Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin warned that an American armor battalion had redeployed its tanks to a location in Lithuania close to the Belarusian border.
"Fulfilling the head of state's assignment to follow the situation in the areas adjacent to Belarus and the movement of troops, we can see that NATO is moving forces in the neighboring states as part of Operations Enhanced Forward Presence and Atlantic Resolve," he said.
"In particular, the redeployment of the 2nd Battalion of 69th Armor Regiment of the United States to the Pabrade firing range [in Lithuania], 15 kilometers from our state border, is underway," he added.
"We cannot help but be alarmed that about 500 people, 29 tanks and 43 Bradley fighting vehicles would be engaged in the vicinity of our border," Khrenin said.
Late last month, the US Air Force flew six B-52 bombers in close formation over all 30 NATO countries, a move military experts said served as a warning to Russia and Belarus.
"We cannot help but be concerned about the flights of B-52 bombers along our state border," Khrenin said.
Belarus has witnessed turmoil since the presidential election on August 9. The opposition disputed the results of the election, which President Alexander Lukashenko officially won by a landslide. Western countries quickly alleged voter fraud, and mass protests followed.
Last month, Lukashenko dismissed calls for a new election and warned that foreign powers aimed to destabilize the country. He instructed the military to closely monitor NATO activity in neighboring Poland and Lithuania, putting the troops on the western border on high alert.
Lukashenko held a meeting with heads of the defense and law enforcement bodies on Saturday, focusing on the situation on the western border as well as sociopolitical developments in the country.
Lukashenko asked the defense minister and the chief of the General Staff to put forward their proposals for the Belarusian army's actions in the near future.
In an interview with Russian media aired on Wednesday, Lukashenko said that Russia would "join us to repel an aggression from the west" under the Collective Security Treaty and the Union State treaty. "It is our zone of responsibility," he said, adding that Belarus was also bound by treaty to defend Russia.
"Should someone try to carry out an act of aggression against Russia through Belarus or near Belarus, our 60,000-65,000-strong army will go to war," Lukashenko said.
Russia has long been alarmed by NATO's expansion on its so-called eastern flank.
Russia's Defense Ministry said Sunday it would send troops from its Pskov division of paratroopers to Belarus for joint military drills starting on Monday, the RIA news agency reported.
The "Slavic brotherhood" joint military drills are due to run from September 14-25, the defense ministry said, adding that the Russian paratroopers would return to Russia once they were over.
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