MINSK, 19 November (BelTA) – Growing military presence along the western border of Belarus, the increasing number of operations are elements of the preparation for war, Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin said in an interview with Al Jazeera, BelTA has learned.
According to the head of the Defense Ministry, attacks on Belarus from the neighboring states, Poland, the Baltic states and Ukraine, have been especially visible recently. "We are very much concerned about this. We are upset that they do not want to understand, to live in a neighborly way. They already talk openly about some territorial claims in the media. We don't understand that either. Why, for what?" Viktor Khrenin noted.
The defense minister recounted the development of the military situation around Belarus in recent years. Since 2014, the U.S. Armed Forces have been conducting Operation Atlantic Resolve, which sees it deploy a military contingent in European countries, mostly Poland and the Baltic states. "Their numbers in Europe are over 6,000, more than 4,000 deployed in Poland and the Baltic states," Viktor Khrenin cited the data.
He cited a vivid example: in Lithuania, just 15km from the state border with Belarus, there is a military training ground Pabrade where a tank battalion is stationed. It has 29 Abrams tanks and other hardware. "Just a year (maybe a little more) ago, when it first appeared there, we were assured that it was there only for the Defender of Europe 2020 exercise, and it would leave the country afterwards. But, as we see now, it has been there for more than a year, it is engaged in combat training and there is a rotation. No one is leaving," the minister said.
The Defender of Europe exercise in Poland and the Baltic states drilled the deployment of U.S. troops.
Another example is NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence military operation launched in 2017: “Here again we see the deployment of a military contingent in Poland and the Baltic states. Today, it is also considerable - more than 6,000 troops and different kinds of hardware.”
“These two exercises taken together involve 150 tanks, about 200 armored fighting vehicles, field artillery, multiple launch rocket systems, helicopters. This cannot but raise the alarm,” the defense minister said.
Viktor Khrenin also drew attention to the NATO Air Policing mission in the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia that has been running since 2004. Initially, this mission involved four aircraft, but by now, according to the estimates of the Belarusian side, their number reached 14. “Meanwhile, over this period of time, the number of our Air Force has not increased. On the contrary, we are optimizing, trimming our Armed Forces a little bit,” he said.
According to the minister, over the past years, the intensity of combat training activities has increased significantly in the neighboring countries. “We see it, our neighbors are not trying to conceal it. The number of personnel and hardware taking part in all these activities has increased tremendously, the infrastructure is being upgraded. As a military man, I understand why this is being done. Airfields on the territory of the Baltic states and Poland are being modernized. By now, five or six airfields have been overhauled to meet NATO standards; work is underway on another ten. Infrastructure is being explored, roads are being improved, the necessary legislation is being drafted - the so-called military Schengen,” Viktor Khrenin said.
According to the minister, in these countries, and in particular in Poland, fuel terminals are being improved, warehouses for materials, ammunition and equipment are being set up. “The forward command of the U.S. Army's Fifth Corps took up positions in Poland. It is ready to run an army operation of any scale,” Viktor Khrenin noted.
He provided some more facts: “A new division is being formed in the Brest direction - the 18th Polish Mechanized Division. They say it will be ready in 2026. Their officials make statements about purchasing hardware and armament: 250 Abrams tanks, dozens F-35 jets and Bayraktar unmanned aerial vehicles. These are all offensive weapons. They are not for defense. So we ask a question why they deploy all this at our borders? We emphasize that we do not threaten anyone,” Viktor Khrenin said.
According to the minister, Poland is increasing its army budget. The country makes statements about the need to increase the number of its troops from 120,000 to 200,000 and further develop its territorial defense troops.
“We are all very much concerned and worried by such developments. I, as a military, understand that these are the measures to prepare for war. Why? Do we threaten anyone? No. Although they [the West] speak about the Russian threat. This is not true. Russia is not threatening anyone. Neither are we as part of the Union State (Russia is our strategic ally). The West is doing it to justify militarization in the eyes of their people,” said Viktor Khrenin.
The minister said that in this situation it is very difficult to predict how events may unfold. The current state of affairs reminds him of the events before the Great Patriotic War: “Nazi Germany began to concentrate its planes on the territory of Poland. The Soviet Union officials asked why they were doing it. The answer was to protect the aviation from the UK's bombings. They believed it then. Germany started deploying its troops. ‘Why are you deploying your divisions and tanks in Poland' – ‘They are coming here to rest” [Germany's answer]. Those were blatant lies. I am afraid that the same thing may be happening now. Aren't they at some point of preparations for a clash?”