Lithuanian, Latvian, Polish leaders warn NATO of threats from Belarus events

  • 2023-07-07
  • BNS/TBT Staff

VILNIUS – Presidents Gitanas Nauseda of Lithuania, Andrzej Duda of Poland and Egils Levits of Latvia have sent a joint letter to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and member states' leaders to warn them of the threats posed the developments in Belarus.

In their letter, the three leaders say that cooperation between Moscow and Minsk undermines the security of the region and that of the entire Euro-Atlantic area, Nauseda's office said in a press release on Friday. 

The presidents note that Russia has been using Belarus' territory and its resources for its illegal and brutal war of aggression against Ukraine, which shows increasingly closer military integration between the two countries.

"Its recent manifestation has been the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus. It presents an escalatory move in the context of the war in Ukraine and a direct threat to the security of our community," the letter reads.

"This is yet another flagrant violation of the NATO-Russia Framework Act and a living proof that this document is no longer in force."

According to Duda, the letter was prompted by a fundamental change in security conditions in the region.

"I mean also Putin's declarations on the transfer of nuclear weapons to Belarus. As you know, this is a really dangerous factor for Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and other NATO countries," the Polish president told a news conference in the Lithuanian port city of Klaipeda on Friday. 

"Another reason is the possible relocation of the Wagner Group to Belarus, which also fundamentally changes the security architecture in the region," he said.

The aim of the letter is to prepare the partners for discussions on the topic at the NATO summit in Vilnius next week, according to Duda.

Nauseda said that the idea of the joint letter originated when he and Duda were paying a visit to Kyiv.

"I think this is a very timely initiative, which draws the attention of our allies to what is happening in the East, (...) in Belarus in particular, because these processes are a matter of concern to us," he said at the joint press conference in Klaipeda.

The Lithuanian president said that the developments in the neighboring countries and the rhetoric of their leader need to be looked at as a whole. 

"The arrival or non-arrival of the Wagner Group is only one of the factors, but we are watching the rhetoric, (...) very concrete actions aimed at create preconditions for the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons on Belarus' territory, and (...) ongoing migration attacks, or what is known as 'instrumentalized migration'," Nauseda said. 

"All these factors as a whole make the situation even more vulnerable, so we have to respond accordingly when discussing regional security issues," he added. 

The Lithuanian, Polish and Latvian leaders also warn in their letter that the relocation of Russian Wagner Group mercenaries and Yevgeny Prigozhin, their leader, to Belarus "would generate risks for the political stability in Belarus and in consequence a potential loss of control over conventional and nuclear weapons", according to the press release.

The presidents also note that "the arrival of Prigozhin's mercenary group in Belarus after the failed coup in Russia could also serve as an incentive for Belarus to resume its efforts to trigger a new wave of mass migration and a humanitarian crisis on the EU's borders".

"Today, ahead of the NATO Summit in Vilnius, we need solidarity and unity to counter all threats in line with the 360-degree principle. Including those brought about by the recent developments in Belarus," the letter reads.

"We must show Russia that we see and understand them and that we are ready to use all possible means to counter them." 

Among other things, the three presidents say that the people of Belarus need a clear message from NATO that "a democratic, stable and prosperous Belarus, not subdued by Russia and exploited by the Kremlin's infighting, is important to the Alliance".

"The actions that we propose will not only improve allied security but will also correspond with the democratic aspirations of the Belarusian nation," the leaders wrote. 

"Our course of actions should comprise 1) review of nuclear deterrence and its adaptation to new realities, 2) inclusion in the military adaptation of conventional threats emanating from Belarus, 3) filling army pre-positioned stocks on the eastern flank, 4) raising defense spending beyond 2 percent of GDP and aligning it with NATO priorities, 5) increasing allied resilience against hybrid threats." 

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced in June that his country was planning to start deploying tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus on July 7-8.

Lithuania's concerns about the situation in Belarus have also been stoked recently by the Kremlin's announcement that Prigozhin would relocate to Belarus after the group's failed mutiny in Russia. 

Some Wagner mercenaries have also been allowed to move to Belarus, but it is unclear if and when this will happen.

Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus' authoritarian leader, said on Thursday that the Wagner chief was still in Russia.