The Polish army, a member of the US-led NATO military alliance, said so Newsweek saw nearby border drills held by neighboring Russia and Belarus as part of the latter’s effort to reign in internal turmoil by blaming outside actors such as Poland.
The annual Slavic Brotherhood exercise starting Thursday near the Belarusian city of Brest comes at a time of turmoil for the Eastern European country, whose 26-year leader, President Alexander Lukashenko faces persistent protests over allegations that his last re-election last month was rigged in his favor. Particularly intense criticism has emerged from the NATO Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as from Poland, which Lukashenko and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have accused of sponsoring the opposition.
With Russian troops now joining the fray at the already militarized border of Belarus, the Polish National Defense Ministry said Newsweek it “monitors military exercises conducted near the Polish borders”
“Taking into account the annual character of the SLAVIC BROTHERHOOD exercise and the current political situation in Belarus, the MoND assesses that the recent anti-Polish narrative expressed by the authorities of some participating nations is motivated mainly by their propaganda needs internal “, Deputy Ministry.
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These latest exercises come after weeks of Belarusian combat training and a series of large-scale drills near Grodno, also located along the Polish border. Lukashenko accused Warsaw and other NATO powers of preparing for an invasion and supporting anti-government elements in a rhetoric rejected by the Polish armed forces.
“Unfortunately, the Belarusian government, presumably with the aim of maintaining control over the internal situation, is presenting protests led by the West,” he added. “We find no justification for such arguments and military activities declared by the Belarusian regime in this regard.”
But EU states have actually amplified criticism of Lukashenko’s administration and even hosted opposition figures and called for new elections. The effects of this pressure campaign were also evident to the Slavic Brotherhood.
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This year’s joint exercises were initially supposed to be held in its traditional trilateral format, including personnel from Belarus, Russia and Serbia, but the latter withdrew at the last minute. The Serbian Ministry of Defense said Wednesday that it will not participate and has suspended all military exercises for the next six months, citing “terrible and undeserved pressure from the European Union”.
Moscow swept away the sudden cancellation, which came at a time of strained ties with Belgrade, typically a close partner in the Balkans.
“We respect the decision of the Serbian authorities,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday, denying that Western pressure had played a role in Serbian computing, according to Russian news agency Tass.
“It is just a fact that Serbia has decided to suspend all military exercises for six months, it has nothing to do with Russia or any other country,” Peskov said.
Even in the absence of Serbia, however, Russia has pledged its support for Belarus in the face of growing demonstrations in which both powers have seen Western influence, with the United States at the head of it. Russian Senator Andrei Klimov reiterated this point in remarks to reporters Thursday.
“Although constitutional amendments have been adopted that legally strengthened Russia’s sovereignty, Washington and its foreign partners have not abandoned their attempts to interfere in our internal affairs,” Klimov said, according to Tass.
He said the foreign plan to stop the Belarusian elections was “implemented by the intelligence agencies and politicians of Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic states”. On the other hand, “As for Russia, the goal was to create political tensions in the regions of the country ahead of the regional elections on September 13,” he added.
Lukashenko also argued that there have been attempts to create a pro-Western corridor from the Baltics to the Black Sea, where a 2014 uprising led to the creation of a government in solidarity with NATO and the EU. Both multinational groups accuse Russia of illegally annexing the Crimean peninsula and supporting an Eastern insurrection in order to preserve its interests in Ukraine.
Putin announced the formation of a special law enforcement unit to be deployed in Belarus should the situation turn into violence and destruction. He and other Russian officials said such measures were not necessary so far.
United States officials said Newsweek last month Moscow could use the instability in Belarus to establish a more enduring security presence in its ally State of the Union. Latvia, Lithuania and Poland have also already expressed concerns Newsweek on Russia’s role in Belarus, on Belarus’s military activities in Grodno and on the ongoing crackdown on opposition figures.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed “concern” on Tuesday over the recent detention of opposition figure Maria Kolesnikova and her colleagues, warning of potential sanctions if the government does not respect the rights of Belarusian citizens.
While the United States stepped up its military activities with consecutive exercises in Estonia and Lithuania, Pentagon representatives met with Belarusian leaders on Thursday.
“During the meeting, the parties exchanged views on the politico-military situation in the Republic of Belarus,” a reading from the Belarusian Ministry of Defense said. “The Belarusian side provided relevant information on the country’s internal political situation, expressed concern about the escalation of tension in the region and the next round of the ‘arms race’, and also noted the inadmissibility of foreign interference in internal affairs. of the Belarusian State “.
On the same day, Lukashenko met with Russia’s envoy to Belarus Dmitry Mezentsev.
During the meeting, the Belarusian leader pledged to consolidate ties between the two nations and, as a belated birthday present, presented the diplomat with an 1866 topographical map of the Belarusian regions of Vitebsk, Grodno, Minsk and Mogilev.
“This is another confirmation of the fairness of Belarus’s borders and also a response to those who see it differently,” Lukashenko said.