Russia begins military drill near NATO borders
Russia and Belarus began their largest joint military exercises in years on Thursday, watched closely by the US and Europe amid rising tension over neighbouring Ukraine.
Thousands of troops backed by tanks, fighter aircraft and advanced S-400 missile defence systems are engaging in the “Allied Resolve 2022” drills taking place in Belarus until February 20. They include manoeuvres near the border with Ukraine as well as close to Poland and Lithuania, both NATO members.
Moscow has repeatedly denied it plans an attack on Ukraine after the U.S. and its NATO allies warned a build-up of close to 130,000 Russian troops near the Ukrainian border may be preparation for an invasion as soon as this month, including via Belarus from the north. The Kremlin accuses the West of trying to undermine Russia’s security by drawing Ukraine closer to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The tensions have prompted a flurry of meetings among NATO allies and boosted efforts to revive the Minsk peace accords for Ukraine. Diplomats are set to meet in Berlin on Thursday under a French and German-led process that’s been stalled for years.
UK Minister for Europe James Cleverly said legislation to allow sanctions against Russia in the case of an invasion of Ukraine will be enshrined into British law on Thursday.
“I have signed the legislation, which we will lay before Parliament and intend to come into force this afternoon,” Cleverly told the House of Commons.
The UK has threatened to sanction Russians with close links to President Vladimir Putin if troops enter Ukraine, but has so far not had the legal means to do so. Russia has repeatedly denied it plans to invade.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss held talks with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Thursday.
Ukraine said Russian plans to block parts of the shared Black Sea and Sea of Azov for naval drills would hamper international shipping and cause economic damage.
“Unprecedented coverage of manoeuvres does not allow navigation in both seas,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday. “This is a significant and unfounded justification for the activities of international shipping, especially trade, which can cause complex economic and social consequences, especially for the ports of Ukraine.”
Russia rejected those accusations. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said all Russian naval activities in the area “are conducted in strict compliance with international maritime law.”
British Premier Boris Johnson urged international partners to demonstrate their solidarity with NATO allies ahead of planned visits to Brussels and Warsaw on Thursday, where he will meet NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Poland’s President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
The UK said late on Wednesday it was putting 1,000 additional troops on standby to help NATO allies in eastern Europe, saying the soldiers would “support a humanitarian response in the region should it be needed,” according to a statement from 10 Downing Street.
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