Ukraine: We need to avoid 'bloody war' says James Heappey
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The country has been on tenterhooks since the end of last year when as many as 100,000 troops and military hardware, including tanks and missiles, were moved along the Ukrainian border. The latest intelligence now warns Russian troops have been spotted just 25 miles from Ukraine.
The Kremlin has claimed the troops and military equipment – that arrived in Belarus today – have been sent to take part in joint military exercises.
However, the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT), which is made up of a group of independent Russian researchers has said the region doesn’t have any training grounds where the drills are supposedly taking place.
The CIT investigators reported that the Russian hardware is being brought into the immediate vicinity of the Belarus border, which is 25 miles from the Chernihiv region and 56 miles from the country’s capital, Kiev.
Earlier this week, Russia’s Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin confirmed 12 Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets, S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems and a Pantsir missile system would be deployed into Belarus for the military drills.
Belarus’ Defence Ministry announced the arrival of the Russian units on Tuesday, stating that forces will arrive throughout the first phase of the joint military exercise, which is set to continue until February 9.
The military manoeuvres, dubbed ‘Allied Resolve 2022’, will involve two stages, according to the Belarusian Defence Ministry. They claim the second will take place between February 10 and February 20.
Belarus’ Defence Ministry said that in the first phase of the military drills, both sides will rehearse defending military facilities, deploying troops, and assessing their troops’ air defence capabilities.
In the second phase, troops will go over “destroying illegal armed formations and the enemy’s sabotage and reconnaissance groups,” the ministry said.
Arvydas Anusauskas, the Lithuanian defence minister, urged NATO to respond by deploying more troops into the region, as he said the exercises pose a “direct threat” to his country.
This week, Britain flew defence weapons to Ukraine in a bid to bolster the county’s defence against the potential invasion.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced on Monday that Britain has started supplying Ukraine with light anti-tank weapons in response to “increasingly threatening” behaviour from Russia.
Since then, a tweet by the Russian embassy in London was posted, saying: “It is crystal clear that UK shipment of lethal weapons to Ukraine will only fuel the crisis.”
James Heappey, the UK’s armed forces minister, told Times Radio that Ukrainians were “ready to fight for every inch of their country”, and warned that thousands of people could die if Russia started an “extraordinarily stupid” war with Ukraine.
Despite the Belarusian ministry’s claims the military hardware – now 25 miles from the Ukrainian border – is there for training, fears that the Kremlin will launch an attack on Ukraine are growing in the West.
Yesterday, the White House warned that if Russia was to make any attack on Ukraine, there would be a “swift, severe” response from NATO.
When pressed on the situation, US President Joe Biden said: “My guess is (Putin) will move in. He has to do something.”
He also said that in terms of war and peace, it would be the most consequential thing to happen in global diplomacy since the outbreak of World War 2.
When asked whether he was worried the conflict would suck in other nearby countries, Biden said: “I am very concerned that this could end up being . . . Look, the only thing that’s worse than one that’s intended is one that’s unintended. What I’m concerned about is this could get out of hand.
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“I am hoping that Vladimir Putin understands that he is — short of full-blown nuclear war — he is not in a very good position to dominate the world . . . It is a concern.”
He added: “That is why we have to be very careful about how we move forward in making clear to him there are prices to pay.”
Mr Biden’s comments came shortly after Moscow’s claims that it has no intention of attacking Ukraine.
Sergei Ryabkov, the Russian deputy foreign minister, said: “I am sure that there is no risk of a large-scale war that could unfold in Europe or anywhere else.
“We do not intend to take any aggressive actions. We have no intention of attacking, staging an offensive on or invading Ukraine.
“As concerns the American demands that we immediately withdraw our troops from Ukraine’s border, we’ll keep patiently explaining to our counterparts that the said forces and resources are deployed
in our own territory, and we aren’t going to make any adjustments to their movements under external pressure.”
An assessment by Ukrainian intelligence pointed to around 127,000 Russian troops that have set up camp near the border.
A meeting between the US and Moscow is planned to take place tomorrow. Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, will meet with Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, in Geneva.
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