VILNIUS – Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas said on Friday that Lithuania is closely watching Russia's military activity in Belarus, but described the deployment of Russian paratroopers to the country as a "symbolic political act".
Russia's deployment of an airborne unit for joint snap drills with Belarusian troops comes amid a standoff between Minsk and its EU neighbors over migrants massing at the frontier.
"Russia's involvement, even with a small landing force at the Gozha training area near Lithuania, is, I'd say, a symbolic political act, in response to (Alexander) Lukashenko's request and [...] his demonstrative statement that Russia will provide military assistance," he told reporters after Friday's meeting of the State Defense Council.
Russia's activity in Belarus is currently lower than, for example, in the summer, when the Zapad 2021 military exercise took place, Anusauskas noted.
The minister added, however, that Russia's military activity is being monitored.
"We have the most up-to-date information," Anusauskas said.
"If the situation were to change fundamentally, there would undoubtedly be a reaction from Lithuania," he added.
Lithuania, Poland or other Western countries are not interested in escalating the crisis, according to Anusauskas.
"The only person who wants to escalate this situation is Lukashenko," the minister said.
"It is Lukashenko's regime that is bringing people to the borders of our countries, and [...] with the help of armed people, is controlling these people in certain places of concentration, not allowing them to leave."
"This escalation is coming from the other side, no doubt, with the aim of obtaining political dividends, so that the EU either does not impose new sanctions because of his aggressive posture or activities [...] or lifts the earlier sanctions," he added.
The EU's member countries bordering Belarus have been facing an increase in illegal migration for months, but the tension escalated this week when several thousand migrants converged on Belarus' border with Poland and some attempted to force their way into the EU.
Fearing a similar scenario, Lithuania on Wednesday declared a state of emergency along its border with Belarus and at irregular migrant accommodation facilities.
Lithuania and other Western countries accuse the Minsk regime of orchestrating the unprecedented migration influx, calling it "hybrid aggression".