Russia and Belarus begin war games amid protests from Ukraine and the West

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine, which the West suspects is a prelude to an invasion, has sparked Europe’s deepest security crisis in decades , as Moscow began to organize joint military exercises in Belarus involving more than 30,000 soldiers.

While Johnson was speaking in Brussels at a joint press conference with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on February 10, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss met with the Russian Foreign Secretary, Sergei Lavrov, in the Russian capital, where she called on Moscow to withdraw its troops to show that it really cares about diplomacy.

European leaders and top diplomats rushed across the continent to seek ways to ease tensions in a crisis that Johnson said had reached its most perilous phase. He called for a combination of diplomacy, economic coercion and military force to counter Russia’s actions.

“This is probably the most dangerous moment, I would say, over the next few days in what is the biggest security crisis Europe has faced in decades, and we have to get it right. And I think the combination of sanctions and military will plus diplomacy is what’s in order.”

Johnson traveled later that day to Warsaw for talks with Polish leaders and to meet with British soldiers stationed in the country.

“Poland and the UK will not accept a world in which a powerful neighbor can intimidate or attack their neighbours,” he said before meeting the troops.

Stoltenberg echoed Johnson’s comment, saying Europe faced a “dangerous moment” as the warning time the alliance would have before any possible invasion by Moscow was getting shorter.

“The number of Russian forces is increasing. The warning time of a possible attack is decreasing…NATO is not a threat to Russia, but we must prepare for the worst while remaining firmly committed to finding a solution. political solution,” Stoltenberg added.

In Moscow, Truss told Lavrov that Russia’s “very threatening posture” needed to be reversed and troops moved from the border with Ukraine.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) meets British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss in Moscow on February 10.

“I don’t see any other reason to have 100,000 troops stationed on the Ukrainian border other than to threaten Ukraine, and if Russia is serious about diplomacy, it should move those troops and drop the threats,” he said. Truss told a press conference in Moscow after his talks with Lavrov.

“threatening posture”

“Minister Lavrov told me today that Russia has no intention of invading Ukraine, but we need to see these words followed by deeds and we need to see the troops and equipment stationed there. the Ukrainian border moved elsewhere because right now it’s in a very threatening posture,” Truss said.

Live briefing: Ukraine in the crosshairs

Consult the RFE/RL new live briefing on the massive build-up of Russian forces near the Ukrainian border and the ongoing diplomacy to prevent a possible invasion. Ukraine in the crosshairs features the latest developments and analysis, updated throughout the day.

Lavrov in turn said that Russia rejects “ultimatums and threats” and that its interests must be considered and respected if there is to be a de-escalation of the crisis.

“We support the normalization of our relations, their improvement and the resumption of constructive development,” Lavrov said at the press conference.

“Of course, this is only possible if they are based on the principles of equality and respect for each other’s interests. Imposing conditions, ultimatums and threats will certainly lead nowhere. meaning,” he said. noted.

As tens of thousands of other Russian troops massed in other border areas near Ukraine, the Kremlin denied it was planning an attack, saying it had the right to move its troops as it saw fit. seems to him on his own territory and on the territory of his allies with their agreement. He claims that his military exercises are defensive in nature.

Responding to comments made by Truss at the same press conference, Lavrov claimed that Western threats against Moscow would only heighten tensions over the situation.

“Ideological approaches, ultimatums, threats – this is the way to nowhere,” Lavrov said, adding that “we can only normalize relations through mutually respectful dialogue.”

As part of Britain’s coordinated diplomatic effort, Defense Secretary Ben Wallace is expected in Moscow on February 11.

Speaking to the BBC ahead of his trip, Wallace warned that the Kremlin’s actions were going in the wrong direction despite efforts to find a diplomatic solution.

“Despite discussions, the direction of travel is in the wrong direction,” Wallace told BBC Radio. “The Russians are continuing to develop their battalion battle groups… They plan to start a strategic nuclear exercise soon, and indeed we are seeing more activity elsewhere.”

He said Britain had seen intelligence that Moscow was engaging in plans for so-called “false flag” operations as a pretext to invade Ukraine, as well as to carry out cyberattacks and other destabilizing activities. .

As part of Europe-wide diplomatic efforts, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met the leaders of the Baltic countries – all three of which are former Soviet republics – in Berlin on February 10. Scholz will also travel to Kyiv and Moscow on February 14-15.

Scholz assured NATO’s Baltic partners – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – of their support at the Berlin meeting.

“We are united and determined,” Scholz said. “We take the concerns of our allies very seriously. We are on your side. This is very important to me.”

In Kiev, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said joint Russian-Belarusian drills, which Ukraine and the West interpreted as part of Moscow’s military escalation in the region, amounted to “psychological pressure”, as Ukraine also began its own scheduled military exercises in February. ten.

Kiev has not communicated the number of soldiers and weapons involved in its exercises. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on February 10 that Ukraine was also preparing a response to Russian Navy exercises in the Black Sea.

On Feb. 8, Russia said six warships were heading to the Black Sea from the Mediterranean for naval exercises in what it said was a pre-planned movement of military assets.

Zelenskiy said the diplomatic talks could pave the way for a summit with Ukrainian, Russian, French and German leaders aimed at reviving the stalled peace plan for the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The diplomatic efforts on multiple fronts come after French President Emmanuel Macron completed a series of shuttle diplomacy earlier in the week that saw him hold separate talks with the Russian and Ukrainian presidents.

US officials say Russia has increased its deployment to some 110,000 troops near the border with Ukraine and is on track to muster a large enough force – some 150,000 troops – for a full-scale invasion of here the middle of the month.

Moscow insists it has no intention of attacking Ukraine, but has continued to take provocative military measures while demanding guarantees from the West that NATO will not accept the Ukraine and other former Soviet states as members, that it will stop weapons deployments there and that it will also roll back its forces from Eastern Europe.

Washington and NATO have both rejected these requests as non-starters.

Meanwhile, the first American troops intended to protect Eastern Europe from a possible spillover from the Ukraine crisis arrived in Romania from Germany in the past two days, the Romanian Ministry of Defense announced on February 9.

And in Denmark, the prime minister said the NATO member was ready to allow the US military to base troops on its soil as part of a bilateral defense agreement.

“The United States has reached out to Denmark, offering bilateral defense cooperation,” Mette Frederiksen told reporters on February 10.

“The exact nature of this collaboration has not yet been defined, but it could include the presence of American military troops, material and equipment on Danish soil,” she said.

The US State Department said it welcomed Frederiksen’s remarks and noted an agreement, once concluded, “will allow our countries to deepen our close partnership” and “strengthen cooperation in NATO operations”.

With reports from AFP, AP and Reuters

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