Russia and Belarus to extend joint ‘drills’ suspected of being cover for Russian invasion of Ukraine
Russia and Belarus have decided to extend joint drills in Belarus due to “the increase in military activity near the external borders of the Union State and the escalation in the Donbas.”
Belarusian Defense Ministry announced the extension of the drills on the Telegram instant messaging platform on Feb. 20, citing the country’s defense minister, Viktor Khrenin.
The unscheduled exercises, dubbed the “Union Resolve 2022 Russia-Belarus joint drills,” are taking place amid a Russian military buildup near the borders of Ukraine and a threat of invasion into its territory. Numerous observers have called the exercises, which were supposed to end on Feb. 20, an excuse to deploy Russian troops for a possible further invasion of Ukraine.
Khrenin added that the drills were aimed at “ensuring an adequate response and de-escalation of military preparations of ill-wishers near our common borders.”
Russia’s troops were initially said to be slated to leave Belarus after the completion of the exercises, with Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei insisting on Feb. 16 that “not a single Russian soldier” will remain on Belarusian soil once Union Resolve-2022 had wrapped up.
The Ukrainian military has denied all claims of planning any sort of offensive military action in the Donbas, and has ordered Ukrainian forces to hold their fire in response to shelling from Russian proxy forces.
Russia has been massing troops at the border since late October.
The U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, Michael Carpenter, said on Feb. 21 that Russia has arrayed between 169,000 and 190,000 troops on the Russian-Ukrainian and Belarusian-Ukrainian border, and in the temporarily occupied territories of Crimea and the Donbas.
Russia is also conducting drills near the eastern borders of Ukraine, in the annexed Crimea, in Belarus, as well as naval exercises in the Black Sea.
Russian proxy forces in the Donbas have significantly stepped up the number of attacks on Ukrainian positions since Feb. 17, with over 136 attacks occurring on Feb. 19, resulting in the deaths of two Ukrainian service members.
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