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Russia and Belarus have begun a 10-day joint military exercise in the midst of ongoing fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

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Belarus is a close Russian ally with a long border with Ukraine.

The drills, which are believed to be Russia’s largest deployment to Belarus since the Cold War, have been labeled as “escalators” by the US.

Ukraine claims they are the result of “psychological pressure.”

Despite amassing more than 100,000 troops at the border, Russia has repeatedly denied any intention of invading Ukraine.

However, the United States and other Western countries have warned that an attack could occur at any time.

Moscow has stated that it cannot accept that Ukraine, a former Soviet republic with deep social and cultural ties to Russia, could one day join the Western defense alliance Nato, and has demanded that this be ruled out.

Since 2014, it has backed an armed insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

Diplomatic talks aimed at defusing tensions are set to take place across Europe on Thursday.

The drills with Belarus are expected to involve 30,000 Russian troops.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko is a staunch supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Following a disputed election in 2020 that sparked protests, the Kremlin-backed Mr Lukashenko.

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The joint drills were described as serious by a Kremlin spokesman, who said Russia and Belarus were “confronted with unprecedented threats.”

However, Russia’s EU ambassador, Vladimir Chizhov, said that his country still believed diplomacy could help de-escalate the Ukraine crisis.

He stated that Russian troops stationed in Belarus would return to their permanent bases following the exercises.

Later on Thursday, talks aimed at reducing tensions are expected to take place, with Russian and Ukrainian envoys joining France and Germany, known as the Normandy quartet.

Some argue that a renewed emphasis on the so-called Minsk agreements, which sought told to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine, could be used to defuse the current crisis.

In 2014-2015, Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany backed the accords.

Philippe Etienne, France’s ambassador to the United States, tweeted that the Minsk agreements should be used to “build a viable political solution.”

On Thursday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will travel to Brussels and Warsaw in support of Nato allies.

Mr. Johnson’s visit is part of a flurry of diplomatic activity, with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace also scheduled to meet with Russian counterparts in Moscow on Thursday.

Ms. Truss said ahead of her first visit to Russia in four years that she was determined to stand up for freedom and democracy in Ukraine and would urge Moscow to pursue a diplomatic solution.

Moscow has repeatedly blamed the “Anglo Saxon nations” for the escalation of tensions in Ukraine.

It also called the United Kingdom’s claims that the Kremlin was planning to install a pro-Russian puppet government in Ukraine “hysterical.”

Meanwhile, on Thursday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will meet leaders of Baltic nations Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – small Nato member states bordering Russia and formerly part of the Soviet Union – in Berlin.

“The task is to ensure European security, and I believe we will succeed,” he said at a joint press conference with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on Wednesday.

 

 

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