MINSK, 30 March (BelTA) – No statements have been made that NATO's Defender Europe 2020 has been terminated, BelTA learned from Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin on 30 March.
The official said: “The intensity of the exercise was reduced on 16 March due to the complicated epidemiological situation. A number of countries (Germany, Italy, Netherlands) have already given up on the exercise. The UK is going to fully withdraw its forces and assets. Allied exercises in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia have been cancelled. However, no statements have been made so far that Defender Europe 2020 has been terminated. This is why we proceed with the planned training of our armed forces and carry out all the events on our own, without anyone's aid taking into account actions near our borders.”
According to Head of the Main Intelligence Directorate, Deputy Head of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Belarus Pavel Tikhonov, three operations are now in progress in Europe: NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence with four battalions deployed in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, the USA's Atlantic Resolve, and NATO's airspace defense mission.
“The Defender Europe 2020 exercise proceeds against this background. The first stage – troops redeployment – is nearing completion. The second stage was scheduled for 22 April – 22 May but the leadership of the USA and the NATO joint military have adjusted their plans due to the coronavirus pandemic. One battlegroup is deployed in Germany and Poland instead of three brigade-level battlegroups. Four exercises have already been cancelled, I believe the active stage of this operation will be adjusted as well,” Pavel Tikhonov said.
The officer stressed that Belarus cannot be but be disturbed by the deployment of foreign armed forces near the country's border. “We proceed with scheduled events and measures,” the chief of the intelligence service of the Belarusian army noted.
BelTA reported earlier that on 30 March Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko met with State Secretary of the Security Council Andrei Ravkov, Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin, and Head of the Main Intelligence Directorate, Deputy Head of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Belarus Pavel Tikhonov.
The head of state noted he wanted to discuss not only the state of affairs in the Belarusian army but also progress of NATO's Defender Europe 2020 exercise, and measures to respond to the situation evolving near the Belarusian borders. “I don't want it to be seen as saber rattling by us. So far we do not perceive NATO's exercise near our borders this way. One of the reasons for that is that the actual actions largely deviate from the initial plans. I think the intelligence service will report about the situation there and we will discuss this matter and take further steps to respond to the developments at our borders,” the Belarusian leader noted.”
Aleksandr Lukashenko said he was confident that judging from the available information the Belarusian side will be able to handle this situation. The president cautioned against an overreaction.