U.S., Lithuania keep 'close' watch on Russia-Belarus training centre, general says

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VILNIUS (Reuters) - The top U.S. Army general in Europe said on Thursday the United States and Lithuania would work to preserve the continent's peace "no matter who positions what, where", after Belarus and Russia held war games and set up a military training centre.

Christopher Cavoli, the commanding general of the U.S Army Europe and Africa, added in answer to reporters' questions that the United States and its allies were paying close attention to the joint Russian and Belarus training and combat centre.

Cavoli was speaking on a visit to Vilnius where he discussed regional security with Lithuanian General Valdemaras Rupsys.

The "Zapad-2021" military exercises took place on Russia's and Belarus's western flanks, including sites close to the borders of the European Union, and their proximity has unsettled neighbours including Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin denies the drills are directed against any foreign power and says they are sensible given increased NATO activity near Russia's borders and those of its allies.

Asked about the joint training and combat centre established by Russia and ex-Soviet ally Belarus, Cavoli replied the United States and its allies "pay close attention" to it, as part of their overall monitoring of the positioning of forces inside Europe and on its peripheries.

"We keep an eye on things and we make sure that in any eventuality, no matter who positions what, where, that we take that into producing deterrence and continuing peace inside of Europe," he said.

Russia has maintained close military and economic ties with Belarus while Western countries have ostracised the country since Alexander Lukashenko cracked down on mass protests that erupted after he won a disputed presidential election.

Rupsys said he and Cavoli discussed "common actions in case of a crisis or a war".

The United States has deployed a battalion of troops and equipment in Lithuania, including Abrams tanks, in rotations since late 2019.

"We discussed the security situation in region, U.S. forces presence in Lithuania, common exercises and common actions in case of a crisis or war", Rupsys told reporters, adding Cavoli had assured him the United States and Lithuania would act together "in face of a threat".

(Reporting by Andrius Sytas, Editing by William Maclean)

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