Conflicts & War

Putin to oversee new military drills as Ukraine crisis simmers

Moscow/Kiev, Feb 18 (EFE).- Russian president Vladimir Putin will oversee ballistic and cruise missile exercises on Saturday, amid escalating tensions between Moscow and western powers.

Nato and its allies fear Russia, which has amassed nearly 150,000 troops near its borders with Ukraine, could mount an imminent invasion, although Moscow has repeatedly denied this.

“On February 19, 2022, under the leadership of (…) Vladimir Putin, planned exercises of the Strategic Containment Forces will be held, in which ballistic and cruise missiles will be launched,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement Friday.

These exercises, which the Defense ministry say were planned in advance, will test the readiness of its military leadership, launch units, crews of missile-carrying ships, as well as testing the reliability of Russia’s strategic nuclear and conventional weapons.

In his daily press briefing, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the maneuvers need not cause concern in the West, as they are “quite regular” training and different countries had been notified through “various channels.”

The drills will coincide with the ongoing Russian-Belarusian exercises being held in Belarus from February 10-20 near the Ukrainian border.

The prospect of further military exercises in Ukraine’s vicinity is likely to raise alarm among western powers, with US president Joe Biden warning an invasion could come in the next “several days.”

But in a speech to his country’s parliament on Friday, Ukrainian defense minister Oleksii Reznikov insisted that the likelihood of a full-scale Russian invasion was low.

“We do not minimize the threat in any way. But we still estimate low the probability of a major escalation (…), Reznikov told in the Verkhovna Rada.

While playing down the immediate threat, he said that there had been no withdrawal of Russian soldiers on the borders with Ukraine, despite Moscow’s claims that it was pulling out troops and military hardware.

“We do not confirm the statements of the Russian side about the withdrawal of troops. This is not happening. There is a movement of forces and military equipment,” Reznikov said.

On Tuesday, Russia announced the partial withdrawal of units from the western and southern military districts — which both border Ukraine — and has since released a series of videos purportedly proving the withdrawal of soldiers and military equipment to their permanent garrisons.

The defense minister also spoke of the increased military tension in the eastern Donbas region, where the army and Moscow-backed pro-Russian separatists have been clashing since 2014.

On Thursday, serious violations of the ceasefire imposed in 2015 were reported with the use of artillery and mortars, leading to a kindergarten being hit.

The self-proclaimed republics of Luhansk and Donetsk on Friday again denounced alleged attacks by the Ukrainian Armed Forces on the frontline, while Kiev stressed that on Thursday alone the separatists carried out 60 attacks, 43 of which were with weapons banned by the Minsk peace agreements.

Two soldiers and two civilians were wounded in the clashes.

Several international delegates, including the US secretary of state Antony Blinken, vice president Kamala Harris, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres and German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock were due to meet at the Munich Security conference on Friday to discuss the simmering Ukraine crisis. EFE


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