Belarusian S-300s sighted on the move to Lithuanian and Polish borders
Civilian videos suggest that Belarusian S-300
Civilian videos suggest that Belarusian S-300 SAM systems moving towards deployment along both borders
By Lukas Andriukaitis
As the tension between EU and Belarus increases, new signs of force are being demonstrated by Belarus, this time by sending S-300 surface-to-air missile systems, closer to Lithuanian and Polish borders.
On June 30, 2021, Belarusian civilian-made videos started surfacing on Telegram. In these videos, S-300 SAM systems were allegedly moving and taking positions near the Lithuanian and Polish border. Most of these videos and photos, published by the Belarusian opposition Telegram channel NEXTA, can be geolocated, allowing for tracing of its movements.
Migrants and military maneuvers
The Belarusian state’s forced landing of a Ryanair flight flying from Athens to Vilnius on May 23 to arrest opposition member Raman Pratasevich was the last straw for the EU. On June 24, the European Council introduced new restrictive measures against the Belarusian regime to respond to the state hijacking of the plane, as well as for engaging in serious human rights violations against protesters over the last year.
President Lukashenka‘s regime did not take the sanctions lightly and publicly promised a hybrid war against the EU, first by weaponizing undocumented migrants. In late June, at a conference in Brest, Lukashenka announced that the Belarusian authorities would stop safeguarding EU‘s borders from undocumented migrants, which led to state-organized flooding of these migrants to neighboring EU countries. Due to its pro-democracy stance and relatively low border protection with Belarus, Lithuania is one of the most affected countries by this escalation.
Another part of Lukashenka’s response is the initiating of military maneuvers along the borders with Lithuania and Poland. Previous maneuvers were reported in August 2020, when Lukashenka moved a third of Belarusian military as a response to alleged Lithuanian and Polish intelligence operations in the country. On late June 30, 2021, signs of new military movements towards the borders surfaced online. Deployment of S-300 SAM launchers seems to be the next step in this stand-off. Moving of these systems closer to the Lithuanian border might be a sign of a further developing situation along the intersection of the Belarusian-Lithuanian-Polish borders, especially ahead off the upcoming ZAPAD 2021 exercise, traditionally aimed against NATO and EU countries.
On June 30, 2021, Belarusian opposition Telegram channel NEXTA published numerous photos and videos taken by Belarusian civilians. Allegedly, these videos showed the movement of S-300 SAM systems to the border of Lithuania and Poland. In order to confirm these claims, DFRLab geolocated and verified two of these videos.
The first video captured a S-300 on the move in a small Belarusian town. The sign on the wall of the building stated it was a “central regional hospital,” which according to geolocation analysis was the main hospital in the town of Myadzel in northern Belarus. The destination or permanent location of deployments of the S-300 SAM system is unclear, yet the town of Myadzel is approximately 40 kilometers from the Lithuanian border.
The second surfaced video was taken from a moving car, capturing a S-300 SAM system on the side of the road. Visible road signs and suggestion by NEXTA that the video was taken near the town of Vawkavysk, allowed the DFRLab to geolocate and verify this video. The S-300 SAM vehicle was filmed stopping approximately two kilometers eastwards of Vawkavysk.
The aforementioned locations were pinpointed on a map, clearly showing they were recorded close to Polish and Lithuanian borders.
The movement of S-300 SAM systems closer to border likely serves two main purposes: preparation for the large-scale ZAPAD 2021 exercise that will take place in September of 2021, and the flexing of military power amidst rising tensions due to the latest EU sanctions. No further evidence of S-300 SAM vehicles movement has surfaced as of now.
Lukas Andriukaitis is an Associate Director with the Digital Forensic Research Lab.
Cite this case study:
Lukas Andriukaitis, “Belarusian S-300s sighted on the move to Lithuanian and Polish borders,” Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), July 23, 2021, https://medium.com/dfrlab/belarusian-s-300s-sighted-on-the-move-to-lithuanian-and-polish-borders-6ac23902bb89.
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