Russia sent two long-range, nuclear-capable bombers to patrol over Belarus on Saturday amid rising tensions about Ukraine.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the Tu-22M3 bombers interacted with the Belarusian air force during a four-hour mission. This flight was one of several similar patrols that took place over Belarus, which borders Ukraine to its north.
This mission was carried out as the Kremlin moved troops from Siberia to the Far East to Belarus in preparation for joint drills. This deployment fueled Western fears about a possible invasion by adding to Russia’s military buildup in Ukraine.
Russia denied plans to attack Ukraine but asked the United States and its allies for a binding promise that they wouldn’t accept Ukraine into NATO and won’t deploy offensive arms. They also promised to halt NATO deployments in Eastern Europe. The demands were rejected by Washington and NATO.
While the West has called for Russia to withdraw an estimated 100,000 troops near Ukraine, the Kremlin responded that it will continue to station troops on Russian territory wherever necessary. The Russian military launched a series war games that spanned the entire Arctic and Black Seas as tensions rose over Ukraine.
Concerns in the West about Russia’s troop deployment to Belarus raised fears that Moscow might launch an attack against Ukraine from the north. Only 75 km (50 miles) away from the Belarus border is Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital.
Russia has been conducting a series joint drills with Belarus in recent months and sending its nuclear-capable long range bombers repeatedly to patrol Belarus, which borders NATO member Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia.
Alexander Lukashenko is the Belarusian authoritarian leader. He has been increasingly dependent on the Kremlin for financial and political support, despite the bruising Western sanctions that were triggered by his crackdown against domestic protests.
Lukashenko claimed that the Russian-led Security Alliance demonstrated its rapid deployment capability last month when its members sent briefly forces to Kazakhstan to stabilize the situation following the deadly riots.
“While they (NATO), will still be getting ready to send troops here, they will already stand at English Channel, and the they know it,” he stated in reference to Western allies.
Although the Belarusian leader minimized the threat of war and said that it would only last three to four days, if it does erupt “it will be over for three or four more days.”
He said that Ukraine is not being fought by anyone.
Bild, a German newspaper, published a report Saturday alleging Russia is preparing to attack Ukraine from multiple directions, capture major cities, and establish a puppet government. Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, rebuffed the claims.
The Ukrainian authorities began a series civil defense drills to protect residents as war fears grew.
After participating in drills in the Ukrainian capital’s outskirts, Ilya Goncharov from Kyiv stated that she was here to learn how to defend herself and my family. I am glad that I came here to learn about self defense and first aid.
Kharkiv is the second-largest Ukrainian city, located 25 km (15 miles) south-east of Moscow. Thousands of people marched Saturday with giant yellow-and blue banners bearing the colors of Ukraine’s national flag as a sign of solidarity and determination to defend the city.
Svitlana Galashko, a marcher, stated that she wanted to demonstrate that Kharkiv has people who are willing to defend it and fight back.
In a sign of America’s commitment to NATO’s eastern flank, President Joe Biden ordered that 2,000 U.S. troops be sent to Germany and Poland amid the ongoing standoff over Ukraine. He also transferred 1,000 additional troops from Germany to Romania.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signaled Moscow’s willingness to continue talks with Washington and its NATO partners earlier this week. In a high-level diplomatic effort to reduce tensions, French President Emmanuel Macron will be heading to Moscow and Kyiv Monday and Tuesday. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, however, will travel to Moscow and Kyiv February 14-15.
Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, called Macron on Saturday to discuss the tensions and they agreed that a diplomatic solution must be the top priority.
Johnson’s office stated that Johnson and the French president had “also stressed the need for NATO to be united against Russian aggression” and “agreed not to stop working together to create a package sanctions that would immediately come into effect should Russia invade Ukraine.”
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian President, also spoke with Charles Michel of European Council. He stated on Twitter that tensions surrounding Ukraine’s situation need to be reduced.
After the departure of Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly leader, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Russia supported a separatist insurgency that erupted in eastern Ukraine, where more than 14,000 people were killed in fighting.
Despite tensions with the West on Friday, Putin attended the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. He also met with China’s leader Xi Jinping for a strengthened alliance. Putin and Xi jointly stated their opposition to NATO expansion while affirming that Taiwan is a part China in a joint statement.
Putin and Xi declared that Moscow and Beijing’s relations are superior to the Cold War era’s political and military alliances and that their friendship has no limits.