WASHINGTON — Spooked by Russia’s troop buildup in Belarus, the three Baltic nations today filed a formal transparency request under the rules of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, of which Minsk is a member.
The request is meant to encourage Belarus to disclose key data about the Union Resolve 2022 exercise, slated to start on Feb. 10 and run through Feb. 20. The drill, which comes at a time of unprecedented tension between Russia and the West over Ukraine, is meant to flex operational military ties between Russia and Belarus.
The OSCE’s so-called Vienna Document allows all member states to ask for exercise information as a confidence-building measure whenever they feel threatened by another member’s troop movements. Following the transparency missive’s filing at around noon local time on Feb. 9, Belarus has 48 hours to respond, per the Vienna Document’s section on “risk reduction” and “unusual military activities.”
Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have requested a “detailed explanation on the exercise,” including the total number of troops, battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, artillery pieces, mortars and rocket launchers, envisaged sorties per aircraft, and rapid-reaction forces involved, a spokesperson for the Estonian Embassy in Washington told Defense News.
Latvia and Lithuania are Belarus’s neighbors to the north. Ukraine, which fears another Russian invasion, lies to its south. Western analysts believe the concentration of Russian forces in Belarus is part of Moscow’s calculus in pressuring NATO to close its doors to Ukraine and scale back its presence from eastern alliance members.
Formerly apprehensive about being seen as too close to Moscow, the regime of dictator Alexander Lukashenko has recently become an integral part of Russia’s posturing. The two governments are expected to grow ever closer under the guise of a Russian counter-weight to NATO in Europe.
It’s unclear what response, if any, the Baltics can expect. The Vienna Document says that states launching an exercise information request can ask for a meeting with the petitioned state 48 hours after receiving a response.
Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.