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NATO chief wary of Russian troop build-up in Belarus


NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg worries about Russia’s continued military build-up around Ukraine

Higher-level diplomacy was expected in Moscow and Kyiv amid deep uncertainty about Russia’s intentions. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky receives Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for talks in the Ukrainian capital. Russian President Vladimir Putin meets his Argentinian counterpart Alberto Fernandez in Moscow.

Russia now has more than 100,000 troops stationed near Ukraine’s northern and eastern borders, raising fears that Moscow could invade again, as it did in 2014, and destabilize Ukraine’s economy. Russian officials deny that an invasion is planned.

“In recent days, we have witnessed a significant movement of Russian military forces into Belarus. This is the largest Russian deployment there since the Cold War,” Stoltenberg told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

He said the number of Russian troops in Belarus is expected to rise to 30,000, with support from special forces, high-end fighter jets, Iskander short-range ballistic missiles and S-air surface-to-air missile defense systems. 400.

“So we are talking about a wide range of modern military capabilities. All of this will be combined with Russia’s annual nuclear forces exercise, which is expected to take place this month,” Stoltenberg said.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu arrived in Minsk on Thursday to check preparations for the major Russian-Belarusian war games scheduled for February 10-20. Shoigu met Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Speaking of the drills, Lukashenko said the goal was to “strengthen the border with Ukraine”.

Meanwhile, the Belarusian Defense Ministry accused Ukraine of violating the country’s airspace with a drone last month. The ministry summoned Ukraine’s defense attache and handed him a note of protest against Belarus’ “frequent violations of the state border”.

Kiev dismissed the allegation and accused Belarus of working with Russia to try to further destabilize Ukraine. “We call on Minsk to refrain from playing with Russia’s destabilizing activities,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said on Twitter.

Stoltenberg called on Russia to “de-escalate” and repeated warnings from the West that “any further Russian aggression would have grave consequences and exact a heavy price.”

NATO does not intend to deploy troops to Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion, but it has begun to strengthen the defenses of neighboring member countries, including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. The 30-nation military alliance also plans to strengthen its defenses in the Black Sea region near Bulgaria and Romania.

Stoltenberg also hailed President Joe Biden’s decision on Wednesday to send 2,000 U.S. troops to Poland and Germany and transfer another 1,000 from Germany to Romania, demonstrating Washington’s commitment to allies and foes alike. towards NATO’s eastern flank.

“We are determined to find a political solution to the crisis, but we must prepare for the worst,” Stoltenberg said, and he welcomed other recent offers of troops and equipment from several allies. Russia opposes the troop movement and has called it “destructive”.

Erdogan, a top NATO ally in the Black Sea region, is positioning himself as a possible mediator. Speaking ahead of his departure for Kyiv, he reiterated Turkey’s support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and said Ankara was ready to do everything possible to reduce tensions.

“We are closely following the challenges facing Ukraine as well as the tensions in the region,” he said. “We express on every platform that we support the territorial integrity and sovereignty of our strategic partner and neighbor Ukraine.”

“As a Black Sea nation, we call on all parties to show restraint and dialogue in order to bring peace to the region,” Erdogan said. “I emphasize once again that we are ready to do our part to establish an atmosphere of peace and trust in our region.”

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Fraser reported from Ankara. Dasha Litvinova in Moscow contributed to this report.

ABC News

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