Is it worth worrying about? Belarusians with tanks marching near the Lithuanian border

Belarussian troops
Belarussian troops Sputnik / Scanpix

The alarming news is that Belarusian tanks have been moved to a training ground near the Lithuanian border. Soldiers are training to build pontoon bridges on the Nemunas River near Druskininkai. However, defence Minister Arvydas Anušauskas says there is no need to flinch. Security experts say that any exercise is closely monitored by our intelligence services and those of our NATO allies and that provocations should not be expected during exercises but when nothing is supposedly happening, Jūratė Važgauskaitė writing at tv3.lt news portal.

According to the Belarusian opposition watchdog group ”Belaruskij Hajun”, at least 20 tanks are being moved to a training ground near the city of Grodno in north-western Belarus as Belarus tests its combat readiness.

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Tanks near Lithuania

In addition, on the second day of the “combat readiness check”, new units and formations of the Belarusian armed forces are being added.

“Two tank companies of the 11th Brigade (Separate Mechanised Brigade – authors note) have so far been included in the check – at least 20 T-72B tanks from the 7th Separate Tank Battalion,” writes “Belaruskij Hajun”.

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In Belarus, the army’s combat readiness was unexpectedly inspected on Tuesday at the behest of authoritarian President Aliaksandr Lukashenko, the press service of the Belarusian defence ministry reported.

It was also announced that the combat readiness check would include the construction of pontoon bridges across the Nemunas River near Druskininkai and in the interior of Belarus, as well as the practice of constructing pontoon bridges across the Bezenina River, which flows through Belarus and is the closest river to the Ukrainian border by 80 km.

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The Minister for Defence has also spoken out following this news. He wrote on his Facebook account that it is not worth flinching at every move the Belarusians make.

“When one or another company of Belarusian troops, or a dozen armoured vehicles or tanks move across Belarus, towards the border with Ukraine, or towards training grounds, it is not worth making big headlines every time. And shrug. Our troops (and our allies) are always on the alert and distinguish between real and perceived dangers.

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We can see what is happening in our neighbourhood (in this case, 50-200 km from our borders), who is moving where and to what end. Constant threats are just as present and changing, but not in this case”, the Minister wrote.

Political commentator Marius Laurinavičius says that these exercises are nothing more than a means of psychological pressure, a tactic that Russia has been close to in the past.

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“They should realise that such actions will not frighten anyone, but it seems that they are trying to exert psychological pressure, that here we are doing something, anything can happen,” the political commentator said.

According to him, the exercise is not a novelty, it is a muscle-flexing exercise. And provocations, which should not be ruled out, usually do not occur during exercises.

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“Provocations are done differently. We have been saying since the Zapad exercise that here is an exercise, and there can be provocations. I would say the opposite, that if there is an exercise, the likelihood of provocations at that moment decreases, for simple reasons, they draw attention. Not only by the army but also by the intelligence services. And not only Lithuanian. So why make a provocation when everybody is watching you?”, Laurinavičius said, stressing that one should not relax completely because Russia and Belarus can always do something wrong.

Another security expert interviewed by tv3.lt said that, in theory, Belarus should notify before the exercise. There are rules on how to do this. However, in practice, this has not been the case for a long time, and if they do report, they lie about the numbers, the size of the exercise and the purpose.

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“No one is surprised by such things now; it was the same before. There are exercises, but they say there are many small ones, not one big one. The troops are being split up, and information is not being shared. This was the case before the start of the war in Ukraine, but now, apparently, it is not shared at all.

We find out through our own channels: the Ministry of Defence, diplomats, and military intelligence. We are not alone in this, and the allies are also watching. A quiet move somewhere, even during an exercise, is possible when there is a small concentration of troops. But if there are more forces, the movement is visible and predictable. Of course, it is also important how it will be seen. Of course, a small force would be sufficient for a small movement,” the security expert said.

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Marching also on the Ukrainian border

Belarus on Tuesday staged a surprise inspection of its armed forces, the country’s defence ministry said, following repeated warnings from Ukraine about the threat posed by its northern neighbour.

“An urgent combat readiness check has been launched,” the ministry said, adding that Belarus’ authoritarian President Aliaksandr Lukashenko ordered it.

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The ministry said the troops would have to enter the “designated areas” as soon as possible. They will aim to “organise security and defence and build bridges across the Nemunas and Berezina rivers”, the statement said.

According to the report, the ministry plans to relocate military equipment and personnel, which will “temporarily restrict the movement of citizens… The ministry is planning to restrict citizens’ access to certain public roads and areas”.

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Ukraine said it would closely monitor the exercise. “The Ukrainian defence forces are monitoring this situation to understand what kind of threat it may pose to our country,” Andriy Demchenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s border guard service, told reporters.

“Actions such as joint exercises, the deployment of a regional group of troops, and combat readiness checks show that Belarus is actively cooperating with Russia and acting in accordance with their joint plan,” he said.

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Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, is a long-standing ally of the Kremlin. On 24 February, Russian troops entered Ukraine from several directions, including from Belarusian territory. Before launching its offensive, Moscow held military exercises in Belarus. Since then, Kyiv has strengthened the defence of its northern border with Belarus and Russia. However, Lukashenko himself has repeatedly said that he has no intention of sending troops to Ukraine.

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