Minsk has said it will conduct large-scale military drills on Belarus’ borders with Poland and Lithuania. The exercises, focused particularly on air defense, come amid mass protests following the contested presidential election.
The drills, which are also set to involve artillery and missile troops, will take place in the western region of Grodno from August 17 to 20, the country’s Defence Ministry said Sunday. The action will happen near the town of Astravyets – not far from the country’s new nuclear power plant, which is being constructed in cooperation with Russia.
Detachments from three air defense regiments have been sent to their areas of responsibility, the military said, adding that the units are already guarding the Belarusian national border’s airspace. Airborne troops and tank units will also partake in the drills, being held at separate locations over the same period, it added.
Belarus has exhibited a sharp increase in its military activities in recent days in an apparent attempt to show force to its neighbors, who have repeatedly been accused by Minsk of fueling massive ongoing protests inside the country. On Saturday, President Alexander Lukashenko dispatched an airborne brigade to the Grodno region, citing tensions on the border and NATO activities in the neighboring countries.
“We cannot just calmly observe what is happening in these territories. Our military is also worried about this problem,” Lukashenko said, adding that he had ordered the transfer of the brigade from Vitebsk to Grodno over the “tense” situation.
NATO dismissed Lukashenko’s concerns about a military buildup near the border, with a spokesperson saying on Sunday that the alliance’s “multinational presence” in the region is “not a threat to any country” and is “strictly defensive, proportionate, and designed to prevent conflict and preserve peace.”
Belarus has endured a week of mass demonstrations, sparked by presidential elections held on August 9. According to official data, long-term leader Lukashenko secured a solid win, receiving just over 80 percent of votes. The opposition, however, insists the election has been grossly falsified, and thousands have taken to the streets demanding a vote recount or new elections altogether.
The contested vote has also been condemned in the West. On Friday, the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell said the bloc had refused to accept Lukashenko’s victory and vowed sanctions against top Belarusian officials. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also not ruled out sanctioning Minsk.