Hundreds of US troops have arrived in Lithuania to take part in military drills near the border of Belarus, adding to the mounting tensions over the disputed Belarusian presidential election. On Saturday, about a dozen Abrams tanks crossed into Lithuania from neighboring Poland.
Since the August 9th presidential election in Belarus, the US and EU have rejected the results and called for a fresh round of votes. The official results gave incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko 80 percent of the votes. Since the controversy over the election started, Lukashenko has accused NATO of building up a military force on Belarus’ borders in an effort to oust the embattled president.
The government of Lithuania insists that the exercise was pre-planned and has nothing to do with “any events in the region,” alluding to the August 9th election. The US deployment to Lithuania is expected to last until November. NATO has repeatedly denied Lukashenko’s claims of a military build-up on Belarus’ border.
Lithuania gave refuge to Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Lukashenko’s main opposition, who fled Belarus after the election. US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun met with Tikhanovskaya on a trip to discuss the situation in Belarus. Since that visit, Biegun has said the situation in Belarus is an internal conflict and will not turn into a confrontation between the West and Russia.
Bieguin also pledged to work with EU allies as they push for a new round of elections and prepare to reimpose sanctions on Belarus. Protests continue in the country, tens of thousands took to the streets of Minsk on Sunday to protest Lukashenko.