Ukraine, in a shift of tone, warns of Russia-backed military exercises

Ukraine, in a shift of tone, warns of Russia-backed military exercises

World News

Written by Andrew E. Kramer

Ukraine’s military warned Friday that the Russian-backed separatist army in the country’s east had been put on a high level of alert, completing a near-encirclement of Ukraine by forces now poised for military action, even as the Biden administration warned that a Russian invasion could be imminent.

The drills tested the separatists’ preparation for live-fire operations, practicing “driving artillery, tanks and armored vehicles” in field exercises, the Ukrainian statement said. Some units of the force, believed to number 30,000 troops, were put on their highest level of alert, the Ukrainians said, and senior Russian military officers were observing the activity.

The warning coincided with an even more dire pronouncement out of Washington, where officials said that Russia had moved up its timetable and could launch an invasion of Ukraine within a matter of days, even before the end of the Olympics.

“Russia could choose in very short order to commence a major military action against Ukraine,” the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said. But officials also cautioned that they could not yet be sure exactly when, or even if, Putin may decide to invade.

Adding to the sense of foreboding, numerous countries — including the United States, Britain and even Russia — issued urgent warnings to their citizens to leave Ukraine immediately. President Joe Biden said that in the event of a war, U.S. troops would not be able to assist in an evacuation. Many others began evacuating embassy staff.

The assessment from Kyiv was the latest evidence of a shift by officials there to more alarming commentary about the military risk facing the country. That follows weeks of efforts to minimize the threat of an invasion, seeking to calm the public, limit the economic fallout and avoid anything that could be deemed a provocation by Moscow.

Ukraine this week began its own nationwide military exercises to coincide with joint Russian and Belarusian exercises to the north of Ukraine, in Belarus, only 140 miles from Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.

Those joint exercises involved a flurry of military activity Friday, the Russian Ministry of Defense said in a statement. Troops practiced evacuating the wounded from the battlefield, maneuvering with armored vehicles and reconnaissance activities. Russia’s air force jets fired at an airborne target.

To the south, the Russian navy announced Thursday the closure of large swaths of the Black Sea for live-fire exercises by its fleet that will effectively blockade Ukrainian ports including the port of Odessa. The naval exercises were scheduled to begin Sunday and last six days.

Russia has massed armored vehicles and soldiers near its borders to the northeast of Ukraine and in the south on the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014, as well as in Belarus.

On Friday, President Joe Biden held a phone call with 10 other trans-Atlantic leaders “to discuss our shared concerns about Russia’s continued buildup of military forces around Ukraine and continued coordination on both diplomacy and deterrence,” the White House said in a statement.

Among those scheduled to join Biden were President Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission, European Council President Charles Michel, President Emmanuel Macron of France, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain.

A wide range of diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis have borne little fruit to date, amid growing signs Friday that the situation is deteriorating. Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said that “we are not seeing de-escalation” by Russia despite multiple diplomatic overtures.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a visit to Australia that “we continue to see very troubling signs of Russian escalation, including new forces arriving at the Ukrainian border.”

A meeting in Moscow on Friday between British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu was cordial but led to a dim assessment of relations between Russia and the West by Shoigu.

After Wallace laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow, acknowledging Russia’s loses in World War II, Shoigu nodded to the countries’ alliance in that war but added: “Unfortunately, the level of our cooperation is close to zero and is about to cross the zero meridian and reach the negatives.”

Source link

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments