Russian tanks stage combat drills near Ukrainian border (VIDEO)
With the West remaining on high alert over reports of Russian military activity near Ukraine, Moscow on Thursday has begun large-scale joint exercises in neighboring Belarus, the Ministry of Defense has announced.
The ‘Union Resolve’ drills, scheduled to take place from February 10-20, are designed to test and develop the two nations' abilities to “halt and repel foreign aggression,” according to a statement from Moscow. The exercises are the second of two stages of checks on the readiness of the forces of Russia and Belarus, close allies who together form the alliance known as the Union State.
Officials have said that the drills will strengthen border defenses and prepare soldiers for various scenarios of incursion by enemy forces. They will involve ground troops, heavy equipment such as tanks and artillery, and air force practice.
Western leaders have been voicing fears for months that Russia could be planning an invasion of Ukraine, and have pointed to reports of troop buildup on the two countries’ border, as well as the exercises in Belarus, as signs of aggressive intentions. Moscow has consistently denied that it has plans to attack, and has called for security agreements that would limit the activity of NATO, the US-led military bloc, in Eastern Europe.
The Financial Times reported this week that Russian President Vladimir Putin told his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, during an hours-long meeting in Moscow, that he would withdraw his troops from Belarus after the drills are completed. According to FT, Putin also said he would not take any new “military initiatives,” and the two leaders agreed to a “structured dialogue on collective security.”
Russian officials, however, have not made any public commitments to a timeline for withdrawal, and have said that France is not in a position to make deals with Russia without the go-ahead of Washington.