VILNIUS – Russia's ability to use its armed forces massed close to Ukraine or Belarus for a conflict has shortened from weeks to hours, Lithuanian National Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas says.
In an interview with the public broadcaster LRT on Thursday, he also did not discount the possibility that one can expect Russia's military action in Ukraine as soon as this week as US and Russian top diplomats set to meet for talks in Geneva.
"During talks in Geneva or elsewhere, Russia might also use its armed forces during the talks for a better negotiating position," he said.
Russia would have needed a month to get ready for a conventional attack earlier but now that time "might shrink to hours", Anusauskas said, adding that this case involves not only Russian forces near Ukraine but also the situation in Belarus.
"The situation is that we will soon have Russian neighborhood in the military sense along our eastern border. We already have it in some sense as we know that they have a military base in the Grodno area and in fact the aviation patrolling near our borders is Russian, without Belarusian escort," the defense minister said.
In his words, although there are real risks that they might evolve into real threat and military confrontation, one needs not only a concentrated army but also political decisions that are still due, the minister said.
The start of Russia's negotiations with the United States and NATO on the demand for Ukraine and other countries not to be accepted to NATO was not coincidental. Anusauskas said.
"They issued their ultimatums and are trying to create a different impression of the threat they themselves created, stating that it comes in response to NATO's actions. And we know that NATO's actions are fairly limited, I can say undoubtedly that military preponderance in this region has always been and still is on Russia's side," Anusauskas said.
Speaking of the weaponization of the Russian region of Kaliningrad bordering Lithuania, the minister said the number of pieces of military equipment and the ability to swiftly mobilize has increased several times over the past several years as the latest equipment has been deployed here and new military units and compounds have been established.
Anusauskas stressed the need to "get ready for various scenarios" but there are no signs yet in Kaliningrad on any preparation for a conventional attack.
"We now see increased military activity in Kaliningrad, we see a process, ongoing military training and certain movement. But we don’t see, I would say, any process we could describe as preparation for a conventional attack. There's really no such thing," he said.
The West must reject Russia's ultimatums in further negotiations, Anusauskas pointed out, also hoping for a tough position during the planned negotiations between US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in genera later this week.
Russia now has over 100,000 troops and its military equipment near its border with Ukraine, and the West are increasingly worried about a major conflict in Europe. The latest joint Russian-Belarusian army drills are also raising concern as, some say, they might lead to permanent deployment of Russian forces, including conventional and nuclear, in Belarus.