Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, the US Army commander in Europe, will start a two-day visit to Lithuania on Thursday.
Ben Hodges
© DELFI / Domantas Pipas

Hodges is scheduled to meet with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė, Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis and Chief of Defense Lieutenant General Jonas Vytautas Žukas.

Topics to be discussed during the visit include the region's security situation, US support for security enhancement, further plans for the implementation of NATO's deterrence measures, and the deployment of the multinational battalion in Lithuania.

Hodges will also go to Rukla, in central Lithuania, to meet with troops of the German-led battalion stationed there and to Pabradė, a training area close to Vilnius where a new shift of US rotational forces has arrived.

The US general's visit to Lithuania comes ahead of Zapad 2017 (West), a large-scale military exercise to be held jointly by Russia and Belarus in mid-September.

The US this week beefed up NATO's Baltic air policing mission by deploying seven fighter jets, instead of the usual four, at the Šiauliai military airbase in northern Lithuania.

Minsk says that the exercise will involve 12,700 troops, but Lithuanian officials believe that as many as 100,000 soldiers may participate.

Lithuanian intelligence has said that the Zapad scenario will likely include a simulated armed conflict with NATO and warned about possible incidents and provocations in the border area during the war games.

Russia and Belarus say that the exercise, which will run from Sept. 14 to 20, will defensive.

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