Russia launches Belarus military drills as West fears Ukraine invasion

Russia launches Belarus military drills as West fears Ukraine invasion

Moscow: Russia and Belarus launched joint military drills on Thursday that heightened tensions and added urgency to diplomatic efforts by NATO leaders to avert a feared invasion of Ukraine.

The war games, set to run until February 20, are the latest point of contention between Russia and the West over Ukraine. Kyiv quickly denounced the manoeuvres as "psychological pressure".

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called the exercises "a very violent gesture" while British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss used a visit to Moscow to accuse Russia of attempting "to undermine Ukrainian sovereignty".

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the build up was "a dangerous moment for European security".

Western leaders have been warning for weeks that Russia could be preparing to escalate an eight-year separatist conflict in east Ukraine after building up of some 100,000 troops around the former Soviet state.

The United States has said Russia is also dispatching some 30,000 troops to Ukraine's neighbour Belarus for the exercises that started Thursday.

Columns of Russian missile systems rolled across snow-carpeted fields on the eve of the start of the drills in footage released by the defence ministry.

Russia has also sent six warship through the Bosphorus for naval drills on the Black Sea and the neighbouring Sea of Azov. Kyiv denounced their presence as "unprecedented" attempt to cut off Ukraine for both seas.

Moscow and Minsk have not disclosed how many troops are taking part in the military exercises in Belarus.

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