Lithuania is concerned at the possibility of Russia using the crisis in Belarus to intervene with military forces, its foreign minister has told Sky News.
Linas Linkevicius said he personally doubted it would happen, but as military assistance had openly been discussed by embattled Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin, such a move could not be discounted.
“We are concerned because it is publicly discussed,” he told Sky News in an interview outside the presidential palace in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius.
He said he did not have any clear evidence of Russian forces already deploying on the ground.
Any intervention by the Kremlin would be particularly complicated.
The opposition to Mr Lukashenko is not anti-Russia, neither is it pro-EU. Instead it appears to be nationalistic, unified in opposition to the president’s attempt to stay in power following elections widely seen as rigged.
There also does not appear to be a single leader wanting to rule for a full term. The main opposition challenger, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has said her goal is to lead the country into new elections, rather than having any other agenda to stay on herself.
Any move by Mr Putin to shore up Mr Lukashenko – particularly after the Belarusian strongman’s security forces triggered outrage even amongst his own base by beating up peaceful protesters – would create new enemies for the Kremlin inside typically friendly Belarus.
Dissent in his own country could also grow.
“Russia would sacrifice also a lot [by intervening],” the Lithuanian foreign minister said.
“It would be quite a dramatic signal to Russian people – what kind of treatment they can expect if the situation will be like this.
“A very difficult decision anyway. In short, I really cannot exclude [Russian intervention] from happening but that would be a very sad development. But the main source of the disturbance is the former head of state (Alexander Lukashenko), nobody else. He made this.”
Mr Linkevicius said it was important that the leaders of the European Union states will hold a video conference on Wednesday to discuss Belarus.
“If the heads are meeting to talk this issue that means tension and also political will (and) assessment of the situation,” he said.
He hoped the crisis in Belarus could be resolved peacefully, while adding: “To do something otherwise would be mad… but I cannot exclude [this] unfortunately”.