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DEFENDER-Europe 2020 exercises end today

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DEFENDER-Europe 2020 exercises end today

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Photo: REUTERS/Yves Herman

The second and final phase of DEFENDER-Europe 2020, a US-led multinational military exercise, will conclude today.

Spearheaded by NATO, DEFENDER-Europe 2020 was intended to oversee the largest deployment of US-based forces to the continent in more than 25 years, with 20,000 American soldiers slated to participate until pandemic-related concerns reduced those expectations.

The exercises conclude as Belarusian protests against the country’s Russian-backed president Alexander Lukashenko intensify in the wake of a highly disputed August 9 presidential election. Lithuania has raised concerns over a possible Russian military intervention; the Baltic NATO member state shares a 675-kilometre border with Belarus. According to a Kremlin statement on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin has explicitly warned Germany and France to refrain from pressuring Minsk as Lukashenko’s security forces crack down on protesters.

A Russian invasion of Belarus or its Baltic neighbours remains a very real possibility for the NATO alliance. An invasion exclusive to Belarus—which could take a similar form to that of similar occupations in Crimea and eastern Ukraine—would likely be justified by Russian-organised elections of questionable integrity. While Latvia’s call for an electoral do-over could prompt long-sought democratic reform in the medium-term, such an outcome is unlikely to be approved by Moscow, which has a vested interest in shielding its neighbour’s autocratic traditions and keeping it outside the Western sphere of influence.

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Photo: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP via Getty Images

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