The foreign and defense ministers of the Baltic states and Poland gathered to discuss a joint response to conventional and hybrid threats while Russia and Belarus held large-scale military exercises.
At a meeting in the Latvian capital Riga on September 13, the four countries called for the unity of the EU and NATO against the Zapad-2021 military exercises, saying that Belarus is armed with weapons to illegal migrants along its borders.
Poland, Latvia and Lithuania saw a large influx of migrants from neighboring Belarus this summer, which they and the EU say are staged by the strong man Alyaksandr Lukashenka to seek revenge for sanctions and support the opposition against his authoritarian rule to practice. Most of the migrants are from the Middle East, particularly Iraq.
“It is worrying that the Belarusian regime will not give up this tactic, so we are ready to face even more immigration pressure. Nevertheless, we are aware that we are not only defending our national border, but also the border with Germany and Europe Union, ”said Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniev Rau at the meeting, adding that the countries expect support from the European Union.
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics reiterated that Belarus is waging hybrid warfare with migrants.
“It’s pretty obvious that this is not a conventional threat,” he said.
“Latvia, Lithuania and Poland are handling the situation quite well” and currently do not need any help from NATO, he said.
Estonia’s Foreign Minister Eva-Maria Liimets said that although her country does not border Belarus, she stands in solidarity on the migrant issue. She also referred to the Russian-Belarusian Zapad military exercises, which are causing “serious security concerns in the region”.
“The Russian Federation has not made these exercises transparent in the past,” she said.
The massive live-fire military exercises run September 9-16, involving around 200,000 military personnel and other equipment at multiple locations in Russia and Belarus. NATO said it is monitoring the exercises, which have raised concerns among neighboring NATO members and Ukraine.
On September 13, Russian President Vladimir Putin led the exercises in the Nizhny Novgorod region east of Moscow.
Russia says the exercises are not directed against a foreign country, calling them a necessary response to increased NATO activities near the borders of Russia and its allies.
“While every country has the right to conduct military exercises, the limited transparency, the broader context of the maneuvers and the associated hybrid activities give us cause for concern,” said Polish Foreign Minister Rau.
He also pointed to a Russian build-up near Ukraine earlier this year, which raised concerns about Russia’s intentions in Kiev and the west.