WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Lithuania is very worried about a Russian troop build up on Ukraine’s eastern border and a NATO summit next week will try to find ways on how to deter Russia and reinforce the alliance’s borders, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said on Wednesday.
Landsbergis also told Reuters in an interview after meeting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in Washington that Russian President Vladimir Putin might be using the Belarus border crisis as a tactical distraction to stir up wider instability in the region.
“Creating all those tactical instabilities on the border, having us all paying 100 percent attention to these issues, Putin might be ready to make a strategic move,” Landsbergis said.
He added that he was not sure about the scale of Moscow’s next step “if there would be a military action against Ukraine … because in 2014 the scale was limited.”
In 2014, Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine.
“It’s very difficult now to be certain of the impact and their thinking,” Landsbergis said.
United States, NATO and Ukrainian officials have raised the alarm in recent weeks over what they say are unusual Russian troop movements closer to Ukraine, suggesting that Moscow may be poised to launch a new attack on its neighbor, accusations Russia has rejected as fear mongering. Both Russia and Ukraine staged military drills https://www.reuters.com/world/russia-ukraine-both-step-up-military-alert-with-combat-drills-2021-11-24 on Wednesday.
Russia denies threatening anyone and says it can deploy its troops on its own territory as it pleases. It has accused Ukraine and NATO of whipping up tensions and suggested Kyiv might be preparing to try to seize back two eastern regions controlled by pro-Russian separatists since 2014.
Ukraine is not a NATO member but the United States and the alliance have signaled their backing for Kyiv in ways that Moscow considers provocative.
Russia’s intentions remain unclear, and East-West tensions are running high with Ukraine, Russia and NATO all conducting military drills and Moscow accusing Washington of rehearsing a nuclear attack on Russia earlier this month.
Next week’s NATO ministerial meeting in the Latvian capital Riga was likely to be dominated by this issue, Landsbergis said.
Asked if the he saw any U.S. willingness to be militarily involved in the event of a potential invasion, Landsbergis said: “I feel the level of responsibility … U.S. sees that you cannot leave the countries without at least … without the political assistance.”
He added that he never heard any promises from U.S. officials. “I don’t think that’s just an easy discussion.”
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Michael Martina; editing by Grant McCool)