Ten days of joint military training between Russia and Belarus have begun despite continued worries of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Belarus is Russia’s closest ally and shares a long border with Ukraine.
The drills, which are estimated to be Russia’s largest deployment to Belarus since the Cold War, have been dubbed a “violent gesture” by France. They amount to “psychological pressure,” according to Ukraine.
On Thursday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated that Europe is facing its worst security crisis in decades.
The United States and other Western countries, on the other hand, have warned that an assault may occur at any time.
The exercises, dubbed Allied Resolve 2022, are taking place along the Belarusian-Ukrainian border, which is just over 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) long. The active phase of the drills began on Thursday.
There are concerns that if Russia decides to invade Ukraine, the drills will bring Russian troops closer to Kyiv, making an attack on the city easier.
President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus is a close supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the two countries have formed a “Union State” that involves economic and military cooperation. After a disputed election in 2020 that sparked protests in Belarus, the Kremlin backed Mr Lukashenko.
According to the Russian defence ministry, the goal of the war simulations is to practise “repelling external aggression with a defensive operation.” Troops will also conduct drills to secure the border and prevent weapons and ammunition delivery corridors.
Russia maintains that it has the right to freely transfer its soldiers over its own territory and that of its allies with their permission. After the drills, the troops in Belarus would return to their bases, according to the statement.
The joint drills, according to a Kremlin spokeswoman, are serious since Russia and Belarus are facing “unprecedented dangers.”
In addition, Russia is conducting naval drills in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, both of which are on Ukraine’s southern flank, which Kyiv has described as “an unnecessary complexity of international shipping” that has made navigation in both oceans “nearly impossible.”
However, the drills have caused anxiety among Ukraine and its Western allies.
On Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated, “The accumulation of forces near the border is psychological pressure from our neighbours.”
It was a “quite harsh gesture,” according to French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, and the US has branded the exercises a “escalatory” move.
Ukraine is also conducting its own military drills, in which it will employ some of the hardware recently delivered by international allies.
On Thursday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Brussels and Warsaw in support of Nato members.
After meeting with Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, he said he didn’t believe a decision on a Russian invasion of Ukraine had been taken yet, but cautioned that “this is arguably the most perilous moment… in what is Europe’s worst security issue in decades.”
Meanwhile, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday in Moscow. If Russia was serious about using diplomacy to calm the problem, she argued, it should move its forces away from the Ukrainian border.
Mr Lavrov expressed his dissatisfaction with the negotiations, accusing Ms Truss of failing to hear Russia’s concerns.
Moscow has stated that it cannot accept that Ukraine, a former Soviet republic with strong social and cultural links to Russia, could one day join Nato, and has insisted that this be ruled out. Since 2014, it has backed an armed insurgency in eastern Ukraine.