Russian officials said Tuesday that Moscow was sending its troops to Belarus for joint military exercises, a move that will place more Kremlin troops and equipment near Ukraine as Western countries fear an invasion.
Russia and Belarus will participate in exercises involving drills to “thwart and repel foreign aggression”, according to Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin, as reported by The Associated Press.
Russia, which has already started moving its troops and equipment for war games – including a dozen Su-35 fighter jets – expects its forces to be in place by the second week. of February, with the exercises to take place on February 1. 10-20, according to Fomin.
Later Tuesday, when asked if the Pentagon had assessed moves to Belarus, the press secretary John KirbyJohn KirbyRussia pulls embassy staff from Kyiv: Report Blinken to visit Ukraine amid tensions with Russia Defense and national security overnight – Texas hostage crisis rocks nation MORE said he would not comment on another country’s operations and exercises and that the Russians “can certainly speak for themselves on this.”
Kirby added that officials “continue to see a significant presence of Russian armed forces in the western part of their country, around the northeastern border with Ukraine,” which “continues to cause us concern.”
Tensions between Ukraine and Russia have reached new heights following a series of talks last week between Russia, the United States and NATO that failed to yield any agreement.
Ukrainian officials have warned that Russia is preparing the ground for an attack, which could come at any time, as around 100,000 Kremlin troops have massed near the countries border.
Secretary of State Antoine BlinkenAntony BlinkenUS prepares financial sanctions against pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine: report US sanctions Lebanese tourism company and Hezbollah members for links to terrorism White House says Russia may launch a attack in Ukraine “at any time” MORE hopes to defuse those tensions when he meets his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in Geneva on Friday.
But Washington is also preparing for the worst, with the White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiBiden Praises Wireless Giants For Delaying 5G Rollout Near Major Airports Brief In Brief: Free COVID-19 Testing Site Being Tested Ahead Of Launch Wednesday White House Says Russia May Launch Attack in Ukraine “at any time” MORE telling reporters on Tuesday that the United States believed Russia could carry out an attack on Ukraine “at any time.”
Russia, meanwhile, has repeatedly denied that it intends to attack Ukraine – as it did during the annexation of Crimea in 2014 – and that it was responding to aggressive actions not specified NATO countries.
Moscow has also demanded that NATO guarantee that it will not expand into Ukraine or other former Soviet countries or position its forces and weapons there.
Fomin did not specify how many troops and armaments Moscow would deploy for the war games, but Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said the exercises will take place on his country’s western border and in the south, where he shares a border with Ukraine.