Army Chief on drills in Belarus and unprecedented number of Russian troops: different nature and different objectives

Lithuanian Army Chief Valdemaras Rupšys. Photo MoD.
Lithuanian Army Chief Valdemaras Rupšys. Photo MoD.

The large-scale joint Russian-Belarusian military drills that started on Thursday in Belarus are also taking place just 10 kilometres from the Lithuanian border. Lithuanian Armed Forces Commander Valdemaras Rupšys has assessed the risk of possible incidents during the drill and the threats posed by the cutting off of the Suwalki corridor Rimvydas Paleckis writes in

The drill also near Lithuania

The Commander of the Lithuanian Armed Forces told the “Alfa taškas” programme on “Lietuvos rytas” television that the current Russian-Belarusian military drill is entirely different from all previous exercises in the latter’s territory, both in terms of their nature and the number of troops.

According to Rupšys, about 25-30 thousand Russian troops may take part in the drills in Belarus.

“Normally, the procedure was different. Anyway, they respected international legislation and agreements. They would declare the number of troops officially as much as they can declare – 13,000, then combine the drill with some other exercises and conceal some of the troops coming, but we have never seen Russian troops exceeding 15,000.

Now the nature is different, the procedures are different, and I think the objectives are different from what they used to be in previous exercises”, the Chief of Defence said.

According to Rupšys, the main forces are concentrated in the south of Belarus.

“The main forces are concentrated in the Brest military district, in the south-western part of Belarus, close to Poland. And the largest forces are in the south-east, near the Ukrainian border”, he pointed out.

According to Rupšys, the drill is also taking place 5-10 kilometres from the Lithuanian border, at the Gozha training ground, near Druskininkai.

“How much will be a complex drill and how much will be subordinated to other units – most likely it will be subordinated. Another thing is that it is clearly visible that joint forces will be used: air defence, aviation, missile forces and, most importantly, command and control elements of the Russian command and control elements of the Russian command and control elements of the Russian-Belarusian joint military grouping,” Rupšys said.

The Commander of the Lithuanian Armed Forces agrees that Lithuania is not immune from possible incidents during military exercises. For example, Lithuania would react to it if a missile were to fly towards Lithuania instead of the target during the exercise.

“If there were normal relations and proper international cooperation at the political, diplomatic and military level, it would be easier to avoid or understand such incidents.

If it were to happen now, it could undoubtedly be treated as a regular attack or a violation of sovereignty. There could certainly be consequences, a reaction such that a weapon would have to be used in response to a weapon, even to an incident. I hope that this will not be the case,” Rupšys said.

Questions on the Suwałki corridor

Germany announced on Monday that it is sending up to 350 more troops to Lithuania to strengthen NATO’s eastern flank. Rupšys pointed out that there are currently over 2,000 NATO troops in Lithuania.

” I sometimes like it when the public discusses the numbers of people – it’s probably not the numbers that matter. The bottom line is what kind of weaponry they have, what kind of tasks they can solve, what is the combat power or capability of that unit.

I will tell you that the NATO Forward Battalion has the kind of power that can challenge a potential adversary – if you look at it, it’s undoubtedly one to three against an adversary, that’s the ratio,” the Chief of Defence explained.

At the time, when asked about the publicly discussed threat of a possible cut-off of the Suwałki Corridor, Rupšys said that it would not be easy for Russia to execute such a plan.

“A distance of 90 kilometres is not an impossibility, but the fact is that it would not be easy to close it, for sure. It would not be easy. I will not hide the fact that we have the plans and the capacity to make it not easy for them. But, on the other hand, I do not see any reason to say that it is realistic that this will happen during this exercise.

As we can see now, this drill is not training for those actions. But who knows what might happen and what is planned in Moscow. But we are ready”, he said.

As for the real Russian threats to Lithuania at the moment, the army chief said that there is no reason to be complacent, but there is no need to panic.

“The situation today is really very tense; we can see the deployment of Russian forces. The huge forces, the nature of their mobilisation, the formation and command of strike groups, the logistical capabilities and combat support units are deployed according to the obvious logic that an invasion of Ukraine can definitely happen.

Just in which direction could it come about? There are many options. What is the objective? Is it a full-scale invasion, on a very large scale, which is also seen to be possible, or a partial invasion, on a smaller scale?

We can predict from what we know, judging from what we know, plot options of what they might be planning. But the fact is that we have to be calm now. If there were a direct military threat, I would be the first to say to you – “look, we have to prepare for something serious”.

Now I am saying that we are watching, we are reacting, our troops are in the appropriate state of readiness, and if there is a surprise factor, if something flies in or if something rolls in, we will certainly react immediately. So we are ready for it, we are in a position where we can react. But for today, I do not see the need for us to be ready and tomorrow there will be a war,” Rupšys summarised.
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