Russia’s Minister of Defence Sergey Shoygu today announced that Russia had sent a major contingent of its Eastern Military Distict (VVO), including aerial units and air defence units, to Belarus as part of a joint military exercise between the two countries.
The ‘first stage’ of the war games lasts until February 9 and will see thousands of Russian troops assemble and organise defences as part of a battle-readiness operation.
Major war games will then be conducted from February 10 and will see Russian and Belarusian units engage in a 10-day simulation of the ‘interception and suppression of foreign military aggression and counter-terrorism operations’ in what Shoygu dubbed ‘The Allied Resolve of 2022’.
Shoygu did not specify how many troops would take part in the war games, but US ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the US believes Russia will post up to 30,000 troops in Belarus by early February.
In the face of imminent war games, the US State Department yesterday issued travel advisory which ordered the departure of family members of US government employees from Belarus.
It also warned Americans not to travel to Belarus ‘due to the arbitrary enforcement of laws, the risk of detention, and unusual and concerning Russian military buildup along Belarus’ border with Ukraine.’
‘We feel its important to be open and candid about the threat from Russia,’ White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters at a news briefing, pointing to thousands of other Russian troops near the Russia-Ukraine border.
‘We have been saying for more than a week that Russia could invade anytime.’
Russia meanwhile has consistently denied it has any plans to invade Ukraine, and has accused NATO and the West of escalating tensions with continued threats of sanctions and military aggression.
In this photo taken from video and released by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, Russian military vehicles are parked at the a military field camp prior to Russia-Belarus military drills at the Brestsky training ground in the Republic of Belarus
The ‘first stage’ of the war games lasts until February 9 and will see thousands of Russian troops assemble and organise defences as part of a battle-readiness operation
Major war games will then be conducted from February 10 and will see Russian and Belarusian units engage in 10 days of military exercises designed to simulate the ‘interception and suppression of foreign military aggression’ in what Shoygu dubbed ‘The Allied Resolve of 2022’
A map showing where Putin’s forces have assembled on Ukraine’s borders, the military options Putin might be considering, and key targets he would likely go after in the event he chooses to invade – something the US and NATO continue to warn could be just weeks away from happening
‘We’ve seen evidence that Russia intends to expand that presence to more than 30,000 troops near the Belarus border’ with Ukraine by early February, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the UN Security Council Monday, noting the forces would be ‘less than two hours north of Kyiv.’
But her Russian counterpart, Vasily Nebenzya, rejected the allegations and said Washington was engaging ‘in hysterics’ by calling the Council meeting held Monday on Ukraine.
‘The discussions about a threat of war is provocative in and of itself. You are almost calling for this, you want it to happen,’ Nebenzya said.
The Russian diplomat also pointed out that no Russian official had threatened to invade the former Soviet republic and that Ukrainians were being ‘brainwashed’ by the ‘Russiaphobia’ of the West.
He insisted that any troops being sent to Belarus were there to take part in the joint military exercises and nothing more.
The order from the State Department for US citizens to leave Belarus came hours after Washington and Moscow clashed over Ukraine at a UN Security Council meeting yesterday in which US diplomats threatened to slap sanctions on wealthy Russian oligarchs if Putin decides to attack Ukraine.
White House Press secretary Jen Psaki said: ‘Russia has the power. They are the aggressor here. They have the power and ability to de-escalate, to pull their troops back from the border, to not push more troops to Belarus, to take steps to deescalate the situation on the ground.’
Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya (L) yesterday accused the US of ginning up ‘hysterics’ and ‘brainwashing’ Ukrainians at a heated United Nations Security Council meeting. US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield (R) said she was ‘disappointed’ but not ‘surprised’ by his comments and claimed Moscow is mobilizing 30,000 more troops to send to the Belarus-Ukraine border
Meanwhile, several key figures involved in the Ukraine crisis are set to share calls and meetings today as nations scramble to prevent the tension from escalating to an armed conflict.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are expected to share another phone call, one week after Blinken extended a diplomatic proposal to step away from a potential conflict.
Blinken last week described the proposal as something that offers Russia ‘a serious diplomatic path forward,’ but assured that NATO allied nations did not bow to Russia’s demand that it bar ex-Soviet bloc countries from entering the 30-country military alliance.
US authorities claimed Russia had sent a written response to the proposal – something which was denied earlier today by Lavrov.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is also expected to host Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for talks in Moscow.
Hungary will likely request Russia to increase its gas supply at a time when some in Europe accuse Russia of orchestrating an energy crisis to pressure European countries.
Orban travels to Moscow in defiance of calls to cancel the trip from opposition parties, who said in a joint statement that it is ‘contrary to our national interests’.
Hungary is a member state of NATO, but maintains strong diplomatic ties with Russia and has refused to accept foreign NATO troops being deployed in its territory amid tension over Ukraine.
Hungarian Defence Minister Tibor Benko said in an interview Tuesday morning that leaders should shy away from ‘Cold War rhetoric’.
‘There’s no need for 1,000 NATO soldiers to come to Hungary and be stationed here permanently,’ he told public media, adding ‘no one wants to create a situation where people are afraid and worried by showing off their forces’.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (R) is expected to travel to Russia today for talks with Vladimir Putin (L) in which he is likely to ask the Russian President for an increased gas supply, in a move which has been condemned by opposition parties in Hungary
Elsewhere, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson today travels to Ukraine to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky to discuss the crisis and NATO’s promises to provide the eastern European nation with military aid in the event of an invasion.
The meeting between Johnson and Zelensky comes one day after Johnson cancelled a scheduled call with Vladimir Putin as he scrambled to manage the fallout of the Partygate scandal.
Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy said the reports of the delayed phone call showed there were ‘real world consequences’ of having a Prime Minister fighting for his political survival and ‘a vital diplomatic opportunity has been missed’.
Zelensky meanwhile signed a decree to increase the size of Ukraine’s armed forces by 100,000 troops over three years and raise soldiers’ salaries, but insisted the move did not mean war with Russia was imminent.
The 92nd separate mechanized brigade of Ukrainian Armed Forces tanks prepare to take part in a drill near Klugino-Bashkirivka village not far from Eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, 31 January 2022
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky today signed a decree to increase the size of Ukraine’s armed forces by 100,000 troops over three years and raise soldiers’ salaries, but insisted the move did not mean war with Russia was imminent (Ukrainian tanks take part in drills in Eastern Ukraine, Jan 31)
Although Russia has massed tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine’s borders, Zelenskiy has repeatedly pushed back against warnings by the United States and other NATO allies that Russia could attack Ukraine at any moment.
‘This decree (was prepared) not because we will soon have a war… but so that soon and in the future there will be peace in Ukraine,’ Zelensky said.
There are currently nearly 250,000 people in Ukraine’s armed forces, which are vastly outnumbered and outgunned by Russia’s.
‘We must be united in domestic politics. You can be in opposition to the government, but you can’t be in opposition to Ukraine,’ Zelensky said.
Zelensky will also meet Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki today.