Russia Increases Troops In Belarus, And Both Practised Mock-Invasion Of Lithuania Last Year

Satellite images launched by American space technology company Maxar showed that Russia amassed troops and weaponry in the southern part of Belarus which shares borders with Ukraine. Maxar Technologies, which has been tracking the military developments across Russia’s borders, showed in its images that at least 100 military vehicles and dozens of troop tents were erected at VD Bolshoy Bokov airfield, near Mazyr, Belarus.

This combination of Maxar satellite images created on February 22, 2022 shows V.D. Bolshoy Bokov aerodrome, a small airfield near Mazyr, southern Belarus, on February 4, 2022 (top) and on February 22, 2022 after the arrival of a new deployment consisting of more than 100 vehicles and dozens of troop tents/shelters. (Image: AFP)

News18 accessed the images shared by news agency AFP. The authenticity of those images could not be independently verified.

Russia deployed weapons, troops and fighter aircrafts in Belarus earlier this month citing that a drill is being held by both nations to test battle efficiency. These moves were seen by the West as means to coerce Ukraine as it also faces pressure from Russia on its eastern border.

It is also noteworthy that even after Belarus foreign minister Vladimir Makei assuring Ukraine that following the military drills Russian forces would leave, they still remain and only look forward to increase their presence.

Russia’s deployment also poses a problem from the Baltic states – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The presence of Russian troops in Belarus also means that Russian troops will remain at the doorsteps of these aforementioned nations. Belarus shares borders with Lithuania and Latvia while Latvia and Estonia share borders with Russia.

Marius Laurinavicius, a Lithuanian expert on security while speaking to Financial Times (FT) said that the situation Baltic states face is akin to that faced by West Germany before the German reunification.

The Mock Invasion Of Lithuania And The Suwalki Gap

Russia has more reasons to be irked with these Baltic states. These are the only states which were part of the erstwhile Soviet Union and have now joined the European Union and NATO, and it is worth mentioning that they also sent arms to Ukraine to bolster its defence.

Kusti Salm, Estonian defence ministry official also speaking to FT explained that Russia has more troops than NATO has near these Baltic states. The nations also fear that Russia will use the Suwalki gap, a narrow 65km Polish-Lithuanian border, to cut off these Baltic states from the rest of Europe.

Margiris Abukevicius, Lithuania’s deputy defence minister, told FT that there is an imbalance when it comes to military strength. Belarus earlier indicated that it may station Russian nukes on its land. The US warned Minsk earlier that ‘it is hard to make Russians exit once they enter’. To further deepen their fears, in 2020’s Zapad Military exercises between both nations they even practised a mock invasion of Lithuania, a Baltic security official familiar with the developments told FT.

Mikk Marran, director-general of Estonia’s foreign intelligence service feels that actions in Ukraine, if undeterred, will further encourage Russia to make a play for the Baltic states. The senior official mentioned above also said that if Russia uses proxy forces like it used in eastern Ukraine, NATO could struggle to mount a response.

The NATO allies are listening. The UK increased its troops in Estonia from 900 to 1,750, earlier this year. Germany also sent 350 more troops and the US will send 800 soldiers along with the already active 6,000 troops in Germany, Hungary and Poland along with eight Air Force F-35 strike fighters, 20 AH-64 Apache helicopters and 12 Apaches to Poland to help bolster defence. But, the Baltic states may want more.

However, the senior Baltic official mentioned above also highlighted that more troops may be needed but credible and quality equipment may also act as a deterrent.

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