Russian troops remain in Belarus after the exercises. It is reported that both countries have made such a decision, given the «escalation» in eastern Ukraine. Fears of an attack on Ukraine are growing.
Amid the deepening crisis around Ukraine, Belarus has announced the continuation of joint military exercises with Russia. As reported by the Ministry of Defense of Belarus on Sunday, February 20, this year. In a Telegram messenger, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin decided, given the «escalation» of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, to «continue to test the combat readiness of the Union State’s armed forces.» Earlier, Russia assured that it would withdraw its troops from Belarus after the training was completed according to plan this Sunday.
In a letter to Telegram, the Belarusian Ministry of Defense referred to «increased military activity» on the country’s borders and «aggravation of the situation in Donbass.» According to US estimates, Russia has sent about 30,000 troops to Belarus to take part in the exercises, which have been going on since February 10 this year.
The massive transfer of Russian troops to the Ukrainian border and Belarusian-Russian exercises heighten fears of a future major Russian attack on Ukraine. Tensions have risen in recent days in war-torn eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatists in the conflict zone recently accused each other of numerous ceasefire violations. On Saturday, February 19, this year the separatists ordered a «general mobilization» and at the same time again called on women, children and the elderly to leave Ukraine for Russia.
NATO sees signs of a «full-scale attack» on Ukraine
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned on Saturday 19 February this year. in the evening that the Alliance expects a full-scale offensive by the Russian army on Ukraine. «All indications are that Russia is planning a full-scale attack on Ukraine,» Stoltenberg told ARD TV on Saturday night. The United States and NATO have recently warned of a «false flag» attack on Russia. Stoltenberg said there were signs that «Russia is preparing to create an excuse to attack Ukraine.» According to him, the growing number of ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine, «false accusations» of «genocide» in Donbas and the evacuation of territories controlled by pro-Russian separatists are «alarming signs.»
Russia and the former Soviet republic of Belarus maintain close relations. Both countries cooperate within the framework of the Belarusian-Russian Union, primarily in the fields of defense and economic policy.
On Friday, February 18, this year Lukashenko arrived in Moscow for consultations with Putin. He left open the date of his return to Belarus. «If we make a decision, we will withdraw troops within 24 hours. If we decide to stay for a month, they will stay for a month. The armed forces will remain for as long as necessary, «Lukashenko said on Thursday, Belta news agency reported.
Macron talks on the phone with Putin and Zelensky
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron called Vladimir Zelensky again after a long telephone conversation with Vladimir Putin. According to the Elysee Palace on Sunday, February 20, Macron’s call to Putin lasted about an hour and 45 minutes. So far nothing is known about the content of the talks. Only the night before, Macron called Zelensky, who stressed his country’s readiness for dialogue in the conflict with Russia. According to Paris, Zelensky promised not to react to provocations by pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Citing Western fears of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian state television: «What’s the point of Russia attacking someone? We urge you to remember history. » On the contrary, in his opinion, Ukraine could feel provoked by a violent decision in the conflict zone in the east of the country. Peskov once again criticized Kyiv’s military support for the West.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is convening a special meeting on Monday, given the escalating situation in eastern Ukraine. According to the PAP Agency on Sunday, February 20, this year. said Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski. Poland currently chairs the OSCE. This organization has been trying for a long time to mediate in the settlement of the conflict. Until now, Russia has strongly rejected OSCE participation and has not participated in any of the organization’s meetings recently.
The EU is preparing for the arrival of refugees
Meanwhile, the EU is preparing for a possible influx of refugees from the war in the event of a Russian attack on Ukraine. «Yes, we are working on it,» said EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference for the German news agency dpa. For several weeks now, contingency plans have been being developed with the participation of OSCE member states, especially those directly bordering Ukraine. Its population is about 41 million people.
According to Johansson, the basis for the preparation are various scenarios that were created on the basis of UN information and experience after Russia’s actions against Ukraine in 2014. In the event of an attack, for example, only in the east, most refugees from Ukraine are expected to seek refuge in the western part of the country first. Then they will need support, said the Swedish politician.
Johansson named Poland, which directly borders Ukraine, as well as Italy, Germany and France as the EU’s immediate target for refugees. She did not want to determine how many refugees she expected, according to various war scenarios.
However, indicative data on this were provided by US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin during a visit to Warsaw on Friday, February 18. According to him, only Poland «can see tens of thousands of displaced Ukrainians and other people crossing its border, trying to save themselves and their families from the horrors of war.»
Ukraine’s other immediate neighbors in the EU are Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.