BUCHAREST, Romania — Russia and Belarus on Monday kicked off their largest-ever military exercise involving 45,000 troops on the borders of former Soviet-state Lithuania and Poland, as a migration crisis on the Western frontier comes back to public attention.
More than 20,000 troops from Russia and Belarus will also take part in the joint exercises with units from Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Georgia and Moldova, the Russian military said.
While official communiques speak of anti-terrorist exercises being undertaken by Russian troops, Lithuania’s foreign ministry said Monday that as many as 15,000 Russian troops would be on the ground in the Baltic states as part of the drills.
The foreign ministry said at least two Russian airbase Bases in the Baltic states would be used to carry out the exercise, and that NATO “underestimated” the extent of the Russian military presence.
Russian forces are also expected to be mobilizing on land in the Black Sea peninsula of Kaliningrad, a strategic bridgehead between Russia and the Baltic region. A Russian source said that military exercises would take place in the region in May.
Russia claims it has never sent troops to the Baltic States but has been active in the region in recent months, deploying guns and air defense units to Kaliningrad in July. Moscow also has a Mediterranean Sea fleet based there.
Putin in Warsaw
Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Warsaw for a summit with Poland’s new president.
Putin spoke during a lunch with President Andrzej Duda, and they will hold a joint news conference at the start of the two-day summit.
Russia on Thursday accused Poland of promoting a “Cold War mentality” by reviving concerns about Russian military intervention in the Baltic region, the first such criticism of the host since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.
Earlier this month, in a move widely viewed as aimed at impeding the future reinforcement of NATO forces in the region, the Russian defense ministry published a list of 159 areas in Poland that are considered sensitive territory and must be left out of any military maneuvers.
Earlier Monday, a Belarus company took part in an eight-hour military drill involving 120 tanks, more than 400 vehicles and 30 aircraft, while six other units joined later, the Belarusian army said.
It is the first large-scale military exercises in Belarus since the Soviet collapse a quarter-century ago, which ended the days of Russia and Belarus acting as one armed state.