Tuesday May 17, 2022

Ukraine talks stall as tension soar in the region: Russian military starts Belarus drills

January 19, 2022

Moscow: Russian troops arrived in Belarus on Tuesday for snap military drills, as Moscow hosted Germany’s foreign minister for the latest talks over fears of an invasion of Ukraine.

More than a week of negotiations between Russia and the West have done little to ease worries raised by the massing of tens of thousands of Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders. Adding to the tensions, Russia and Ukraine’s neighbour Belarus launched a wave of military exercises, with video published by the Belarusian defence ministry showing columns of military vehicles including tanks being unloaded from trains blanketed in snow.

Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock was in Moscow for her first one-on-one meeting with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. She came to Moscow fresh from Kyiv, where she told Ukraine’s foreign minister earlier this week that Germany "will do our all to guarantee Ukraine’s security".

Ukraine, the United States and the European Union have all raised deep concerns over the Russian troop build-up, despite repeated denials from Moscow that an invasion is planned. Moscow has instead accused the United States and Nato of ignoring Russia’s security concerns, and demanded that the security alliance permanently bar membership to Ukraine.

Kyiv has been at war with pro-Moscow separatists in the east of the country since 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine after demonstrations ousted a Kremlin-aligned leader. On the eve of Baerbock’s Moscow trip, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called on Russia to de-escalate tensions, warning that "military aggression against Ukraine would have serious political as well as economic consequences".

The Belarusian defence ministry said it was hosting the combat readiness drills because of the continuing "aggravation" of military tensions "including at the western and southern borders of the Republic of Belarus."

Russian Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin summoned dozens of foreign military diplomats stationed in Moscow -- including 16 from Nato member countries -- to announce the drills in Belarus, which he said were aimed at "thwarting external aggression".

He said that S-400 missile systems, which Russia has controversially sold to Nato member Turkey, would be deployed as part of the exercises in Belarus. Moscow has not disclosed the number of troops participating in the drills, which Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko earlier this week said were the result of growing military threats from neighbours Ukraine and Poland.