Belarus’s defense minister extended military exercises with Russian forces that were otherwise set to end Sunday, and announced a joint task force to “fight back if necessary.” Russian and Belarusian military leaders will “continue checking” joint force readiness, the defense minister, Viktor Khrenin, said, citing the “increase in military activity” near the Belarusian border and “the aggravation of the situation” in eastern Ukraine.
The announcement that Russian forces would not return to base as planned contradicted the country’s previous assertion that not a single Russian troop or piece of equipment would remain after the drill. Before the exercise began 10 days ago, Western military analysts warned that it could be cover for an attack force to invade Ukraine from the north and potentially encircle the capital Kyiv.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky forcefully demanded stronger actions from world leaders on Saturday as the threat of full-scale invasion intensified amid increased shelling in the eastern separatist regions of his country. Zelensky also called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet him and seek a diplomatic resolution to the crisis. U.S. officials have repeatedly warned that Russia could stage an attack from Kyiv’s forces on the separatist-held territories to justify Moscow’s invasion. State Department spokesman Ned Price expressed skepticism about Russian reports of a car bomb in a separatist-controlled region in eastern Ukraine.
Here’s what to know
- Western diplomats made a last-ditch push for a peaceful resolution to tensions between Russia and Ukraine at the Munich Security Conference, emphasizing that diplomacy remained an option up until the possible moment when Moscow launches an attack.
- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the BBC Sunday that the United Kingdom and the United States could take steps to prevent Russian companies from trading in British pounds and U.S. dollars if Putin invades Ukraine. Zelensky earlier said that possible Western sanctions against Russia should be made public now to deter Moscow.
- Putin oversaw a major military exercise of Russia’s nuclear forces, involving the launch of hypersonic missiles. The exercises are taking place as the United States asserts that Russia probably has massed as many as 190,000 troops in and around Ukraine, or nearly double the 100,000 estimated in late January.
UNDERSTANDING THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE CRISIS