Russia Sends Elite Airborne Troops To Belarus For Drills As Putin Hosts Embattled Lukashenko

Russian state media reports that the country's airborne forces will be deployed to Belarus for joint military drills from Monday through September 25

Despite the 'Slavic Fraternity' drills being an annual pre-planned event hosted by Belarusian armed forces, the deployment comes at an intensifying moment of continued mass anti-Lukashenko protests after denunciations by the opposition that the Aug.9 national election was "rigged". 

"In accordance with the schedule of international events for 2020, the planned joint Belarusian-Russian tactical exercise Slavic Fraternity, which has been held annually since 2015, will be held from 14 to 25 September at the Brestsky training ground in Belarus", the Russian defense ministry said over the weekend

Image source: RDM/Sputnik 

It total Russia is expected to send about 300 troops among its elite Pskov division along with military hardware for the joint drills.

Crucially it comes after Minsk has again charged that "NATO is at the gates" in neighboring Lithuania, where it's been confirmed that American tanks are participating in pre-scheduled exercises there. 

Viktor Khrenin, the Belarusian minister of defense, said on Saturday:

The movement of NATO troops is taking place in territory adjacent to us, within the framework of the Enhanced Forward Presence and Atlantic Resolve operations. In particular, the 2nd Battalion of the 69th Armor Regiment is being deployed to the Pabrade training ground [in Lithuania], 15 kilometers from our border.”

The defense minister added, “The fact that about 500 people, 29 tanks, and 43 Bradley Fighting Vehicles will be in such close proximity to our border cannot do anything but worry us.”

Meanwhile, opposition activists - of which 250 were reportedly arrested in the Belarusian capital Sunday amid more mass protests - have charged that Putin is treating the country as a "Russian province" akin to Soviet times. 

The Guardian and others reported numbers of up to 100,000 protesters in Minsk on Sunday, on the eve of a much-anticipated meeting between Presidents Lukashenko and Putin on Monday in Sochi. The embattled Belarusian president, now in his sixth term, will seek greater public backing by Putin.

Interestingly, Serbia was expected to take part in this week's military games in Belarus, but has backed out based on its policy of wanting to display greater neutrality, but also under intense pressure from the EU.