Russia launches joint military drills with Belarus
Russia and Belarus launched joint military drills on Thursday, scheduled to continue until February 20. The exercises have raised concerns in Western countries, with fears that Moscow is plotting a major escalation in the conflict in Ukraine.
10:20 am Paris time
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday that Western threats towards Moscow would do nothing to ease tensions over Ukraine.
"Ideological approaches, ultimatums, threats – this is the road to nowhere," Lavrov said at the start of talks with his British counterpart Liz Truss in Moscow.
He also described his meeting with Truss as “unprecedented”. It is the first visit of a British foreign secretary to Russia since 2017.
He said that if Britain wants to improve ties with Moscow, "we will, of course, reciprocate," adding that bilateral ties were "at their lowest point in recent years".
Truss said Britain "cannot ignore" the build-up of troops on Ukraine's border or "attempts to undermine Ukrainian sovereignty".
"There is an alternative route, a diplomatic route that avoids conflict and bloodshed," she said. "I am here to urge Russia to take that path".
10:05 am Paris time
Ukraine's Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba said at a briefing on Thursday morning that Ukraine was preparing a response to Russian navy drills in the Black Sea.
Six Russian warships were heading to the Black Sea from the Mediterranean for naval drills, the Interfax news agency cited Russia's Defence Ministry as saying on Tuesday, in what it said was a pre-planned movement of military resources.
9:00 am Paris time
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is in Moscow for talks with her Russian counterpart to urge the Kremlin not to attack or face "massive consequences" from Western sanctions. FRANCE 24's correspondent Nick Holdsworth says that Truss faces a potentially frosty reception at the Kremlin.
8:30 am Paris time
Russia's defence ministry said that the exercises in Belarus would centre around "suppressing and repelling external aggression."
Soldiers would practise beefing up sections of the Belarus border to block the delivery of weapons and ammunition into the country, among other scenarios, it said.
The games have exacerbated deeply strained ties between Russia and the West, which accuses Moscow of massing approximately 100,000 troops around the borders of Ukraine for a potential invasion.
Moscow and Minsk have not disclosed how many troops are participating in the drills, but the United States has said Russia was planning to dispatch 30,000 troops personnel to several regions in ex-Soviet Belarus.
Responding to Western concerns, the Kremlin has insisted that it has no intention of leaving the troops permanently on Belarusian territory.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)