Ukraine should ‘consolidate strength’ and join NATO says soldier
The exercises were confirmed by Ukrainian Dom television. Ukraine, which seeks to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), has since 2018 received a series of consignments of US ammunition and Javelin missiles, prompting criticism from Moscow. Kiev accuses Moscow of massing tens of thousands of troops in preparation for a possible offensive, raising fears a simmering conflict in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region could erupt into open war between the neighbours.
Russia denies planning any attack but accuses Ukraine and the United States of destabilising behaviour, and has sought security guarantees against NATO’s eastward expansion.
Russia held its own military drills nearby, the Interfax news agency reported on Wednesday.
SU-30 fighter jets and SU-24 bombers from the Black Sea Fleet did aerial refuelling exercises over Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
Interfax quoted Russia’s Black Sea Fleet as saying: “The flights were conducted in the sky over Crimea.”
Ukraine is staging military drills using US equipment
A self-propelled howitzer fires during artillery drills held by the 92nd Separate Mechanised Brigade
A total of 20 pilots practised complex flight tasks, it said, which included mid-air refuelling at altitudes ranging from 2,000 to 6,000 metres at speeds of more than 370mph (600 kmh).
Ukrainian top security official Oleksiy Danilov said on Wednesday 122,000 Russian troops were 124miles (200 km (124) away from the border with Ukraine.
Mr Danilov last week claimed Russia would need at least 500,000-600,000 soldiers at the border “in order to keep the situation under control in the event of an offensive.”
Service members of the 92nd Separate Mechanised Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces
He also said Russia could increase troop numbers very quickly and at any moment, but would need more than 24 hours to bring enough troops to the border to mount an invasion.
Ukraine is the focus of consultations between Western allies and Russia, which has been urged to open negotiations in the so-called Normandy format, which would bring together representatives of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine.
Dialogue with Moscow is necessary, be it in the Normandy format or through talks at the Russia-NATO Council, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Wednesday.
Speaking earlier this month, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the West and its allies are “united” in threatening “massive consequences” for any Russian invasion of neighbouring Ukraine.
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Soldiers take part in artillery drills at a shooting range in an unknown location in eastern Ukraine
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin
Speaking to reporters at a press conference, Ms Truss said: “We’ve sent a powerful signal to our adversaries and our allies.
“We’ve been clear that any incursion by Russia into Ukraine would have massive consequences for which there would be a severe cost.
“We’ve also shown that we stand for freedom and democracy and the rights of people everywhere to live free from oppression.
“We need to make the positive case for individual humanity and dignity, which lies at the heart of our democratic free societies.”
Russia vs Ukraine – the numbers
Russia has already annexed Crimea, part of Ukraine, and tension is rising again, with Russia reportedly massing thousands of troops on the border with its neighbour.
The Foreign Secretary said: “We have sent a very clear united message to Vladimir Putin from this G7 meeting.
“And we are very clear that there will be severe consequences if that incursion took place.
“This is about deterring Russia from taking that.”
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss
In a statement released by the G7 ministers on Sunday, they reminded Moscow that “any use of force to change borders is strictly prohibited under international law”, pledging to inflict “severe cost” on Russia if it does mobilise against Kiev.
At the press briefing, Ms Truss was also asked about the “billions” of Russian money flowing into London.
She said: “We do already have very strong anti-corruption and anti-money laundering rules in the UK.
“But let’s be clear, when the UK has wanted to send clear messages and achieve clear goals, we have been prepared to use economic sanctions. So we are considering all options.”
(More to follow)