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Russia moves troops to Belarus for joint drills amid Ukraine invasion fears

Russian military forces and hardware began arriving in Belarus on Monday for the “Allied Resolve” drills to be held close to its southern flank with Ukraine.
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Russia and Belarus will rehearse repelling an external attack when they hold joint military drills in Belarus next month, both sides said on Tuesday, at a time of acute tensions with the West over neighboring Ukraine.

Russian military forces and hardware began arriving in ex-Soviet Belarus on Monday for the “Allied Resolve” drills to be held near Belarus’s western border with NATO members Poland and Lithuania, and close to its southern flank with Ukraine.

The West has voiced fears of a possible invasion of Ukraine by tens of thousands of Russian troops gathered near its border.

Russia has denied such plans, but troop movements are being closely scrutinized as the military buildup near Ukraine and a barrage of threatening rhetoric have stirred fears about the Kremlin's plans.

A Russian troop train transporting military vehicles arriving for drills in Belarus on Tuesday. AFP - Getty Images

“The goal of the exercise is to fine-tune the tasks of suppressing and repelling external aggression during a defensive operation, countering terrorism and protecting the interests of the Union State (Russia and Belarus),” the Interfax news agency quoted Deputy Russian Defence Minister Alexander Fomin as saying.

Fomin said 12 Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets, two units of the S-400 anti-aircraft missile system and a Pantsir missile system would be deployed to Belarus for the drills.

Russian military vehicles arrive in Belarus. AFP - Getty Images

The Belarusian Defense Ministry said that in the first phrase of the drills, which runs until Feb. 9, both sides will rehearse deploying troops, defending military facilities and assessing their troops’ air defense capabilities.

In the second phase of the exercises, which will be from Feb. 10-20, Russian and Belarusian troops will go over “destroying illegal armed formations and the enemy’s sabotage and reconnaissance groups,” the ministry said.

Belarus said that Russian troops had begun arriving in the country for military drills.AFP - Getty Images

Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, a pariah in the West since a post-election crackdown in 2020 and last year’s migrant crisis with the European Union, said the drills were needed as Ukraine had built up troops near Belarus.

Lukashenko has led the former Soviet republic that Moscow sees as a buffer state to the West since 1994 and strengthened ties with Moscow during mass protests that erupted in 2020 as the West imposed sanctions.

“These should be normal exercises to work out a certain plan for confronting these forces: the West, the Baltics and Poland, and the south — Ukraine,” he said in comments circulated by state media.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Ukraine this week and meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the State Department said Tuesday.