Belarus to respond to U.S. tanks' deployment in Lithuania without sabre rattling - Lukashenko
MINSK. Oct 28 (Interfax) - Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has said he views the deployment of U.S. tanks in Lithuania, close to the Belarusian border, as a demonstration of force and will respond to this action, but without sabre rattling.
"We have never seen troops from the overseas being so demonstratively deployed near our borders before. No such thing has ever happened. I think this is the first action of the sort in Lithuania. It sets a precedent," the state-run news agency BelTA quoted Lukashenko as saying.
A report on the military-political situation, risks, threats, and challenges to Belarus, and proposals on countermeasures were presented to Lukashenko on Monday.
"Naturally, we have to respond to such demonstrations. Yet we should understand that sabre rattling should be avoided. We are a peaceful country, and we do not want to fight," Lukashenko said.
The meeting was attended by Belarusian Security Council Secretary Stanislav Zas, Defense Minister Andrei Ravkov, and the head of the Main Intelligence Directorate and deputy chief of the Armed Forces General Staff, Pavel Tikhonov.
Lukashenko said that Belarus was prepared for a possible escalation of tensions near its border.
"No doubt, this is an armored fist. We should not underestimate its significance. However, 30 tanks and 30 armored vehicles are nothing compared to the Belarusian army," he said.
"As I have said on multiple occasions, we have accomplished four stages of modernization of our army, as we were perfectly aware of fists that would appear near our borders and the kind of enemy we might face, God forbid," Lukashenko said. "We are prepared for such things. So, 30 tanks are nothing for our army. In fact, we don't have to do anything to counter their move," he said.
On October 23, Lukashenko ordered that a plan of proportionate response to the deployment of U.S. armored vehicles and troops in Lithuania, near the Belarusian border, be prepared and submitted in the near future.
Speaking of the presidential order, Zas said that units of a U.S. armor division were being deployed to Lithuania. They will be stationed at the Pabrade range, 15 kilometers away from the Belarusian border.
The Lithuanian Defense Ministry said in late September that a U.S. tank battalion would be deployed near the Belarusian border. It said that the battalion would comprise about 500 U.S. servicemen and heavy vehicles, such as 30 Abrams tanks, 24 Bradley fighting vehicles, and 70 wheeled vehicles.
The Defender Europe 2020 exercise will take place from April through May 2020. The massive drill involving almost 40,000 servicemen from the United States and other countries will be held in ten European countries, among them Germany, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Georgia. Troops from 18 countries will be participating, in all.
The Belarusian president earlier expressed concern about the upcoming large-scale NATO exercise in Poland. He said he would need to discuss means of ensuring national security during the drill with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis said on October 23 that the West posed no threat to Belarus.