Moscow’s military has accused the U.S.-led Western NATO military alliance of conducting a destabilizing military buildup near the borders between its member states and Russia and Belarus, an accusation denied by the 30-member coalition.
The Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu joined his Belarusian counterpart Viktor Khrenin via a virtual link to a joint board meeting of the Union of the Two Countries. Shoigu reaffirmed Russia’s commitment to the security of Belarus, which has been plagued by political unrest since the controversial re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko in August, and focused on the external pressure exerted on Minsk by its western neighbors.
“On the western borders of the union state, where NATO continues to expand its forward presence, a troubled situation still prevails,” Shoigu said, according to a report by the Russian defense ministry.
He said that NATO members are expanding their military capabilities at the gates of Russia and Belarus, where Moscow has expressed concern about a global missile system being developed by the United States.
“The Alliance’s military infrastructure is being improved right on our borders, and supplies of materials and technical equipment, weapons and military equipment are being created,” Shoigu said. “The segment of the American supposed missile defense system, whose missile launchers can be used for offensive weapons, is growing.
Moscow has long denounced the Pentagon’s stationing of the Aegis land-based defense system with similar hardware to the U.S. medium-range missile systems that are being actively developed after Washington’s withdrawal from the 1987 INF (Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces) Treaty last year.
And even if COVID-19 forces forces around the world to take precautions to stop the spread of the disease, Shoigu said NATO is accelerating its maneuvers near the border.
“Despite the pandemic, the intensity of the bloc’s military exercises is not decreasing,” he said.
In a statement sent to Tekk.tv, a NATO official rejected Shoigu’s characterization. “NATO poses no threat to Belarus and has no military buildup in the region,” the official said. “Our attitude is strictly defensive.”
The official said the ongoing exercises near Belarus were routine, planned in advance and had nothing to do with the civil unrest within the Russian ally.
“We are continuing our regular exercise plan,” the official told Tekk.tv. “This includes the long-planned annual exercise “Brilliant Jump”, where elements of our very operational “Javelin Jumping Force” will be transferred to Lithuania in late October and early November. This exercise is routine and has no connection with the developments in Belarus; planning began in mid-2019.
The official also said that NATO had informed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, to which both Moscow and Minsk belong, ahead of schedule.
“NATO is strongly committed to transparency and risk reduction, and the exercise was communicated to the OSCE in advance,” the official said. “NATO remains vigilant, strictly defensive and ready to avert any aggression against NATO allies,” the official said.
NATO has repeatedly rejected the claims by Russia and Belarus that their forces were gathering on the border with allied Eastern European states. Officials from Latvia, Lithuania and Poland – NATO countries bordering Russia and Belarus – have told Tekk.tv that they are monitoring the border for military activity and expressed their concern about the situation in the country while Lukashenko has been cracking down on demonstrations.
The U.S. European Command (EUCOM) also told Tekk.tv last month that it is monitoring joint Russian-Belarusian exercises conducted as part of the annual exercises of the Slavic Brotherhood.
Washington has been consulting with both Moscow and European partners on the situation in Belarus. The issue was raised on Friday during telephone conversations between Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo and EU High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell.
The men “called on the Belarusian authorities to enter into a meaningful dialogue with genuine representatives of civil society, in particular with the Coordinating Council set up by Svyatlana Zichanouskaya,” according to a readout by the foreign ministry, referring to Lukashenko’s opponent who tried to force the 26-year-old leader out of office in a campaign supported by the West.