Russian-backed separatists conduct military drills, Ukraine warns


KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s military warned on Friday that Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country were conducting military exercises, completing a near encirclement of Ukraine by hostile forces, even as diplomatic moves failed. failed to gain ground.

The drills tested the force’s readiness for live-fire operations, practicing “driving artillery, tanks and armored vehicles” in field exercises, according to the Ukrainian statement. Some units of the force were placed on their highest alert level, he added, and senior Russian military officers observed the activity.

The warning was the latest evidence of a shift from Kiev to more alarming comments about the military risk Ukraine faces. It follows weeks of efforts to minimize the threat of an invasion, seeking to calm the public and limit the economic fallout.

Ukraine began its own nationwide military drills this week to coincide with joint Russian and Belarusian drills in northern Ukraine, Belarus.

In the south, the Russian navy announced on Thursday the closure of large swaths of the Black Sea for live-fire exercises by its fleet which will effectively block Ukrainian ports including the port of Odessa. The naval exercises were to begin on Sunday and last six days.

Russia has massed armored vehicles and troops near its borders in northeast Ukraine and the southern Crimean peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014. It has also sent a large military contingent to Belarus for this which she says are military exercises with the Belarusians. military. The Ukrainian capital, Kiev, is only 220 kilometers from the border with Belarus.

In the east, the army of Russian-backed separatists in two enclaves in eastern Ukraine, the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, have been placed on partial alert and ordered to conduct field exercises, Ukraine’s military intelligence agency said in a statement on Friday. declaration.

Ukraine and Western governments view the separatist army, believed to number around 30,000 troops, as controlled and armed by the Russian government, while Russian officials, including President Vladimir V. Putin, have consistently denied any Russian role in it. the dispute.

On Friday, President Biden was scheduled to hold a phone call with 10 other transatlantic leaders “to discuss our shared concerns about Russia’s continued buildup of military forces around Ukraine and continued coordination on diplomacy and deterrence. “, the White House said in a statement. declaration.

Among those who joined Mr Biden were European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, French President Emmanuel Macron, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

A wide range of diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis have so far borne little fruit.

In press conferences that extended past midnight in Berlin, Russian and Ukrainian negotiators said a channel for talks backed by French President Emmanuel Macron had brought no breakthrough.

Negotiations focused on a settlement agreement for the eastern Ukraine war, but were seen as a possible route to easing wider tensions over the Russian buildup. They were the second this year by foreign policy advisers from the French, German, Russian and Ukrainian governments.

“It would be nice if in the second meeting we could agree on something,” said Andriy Yermak, Ukraine’s chief negotiator. After nine hours of talks, the negotiators could not agree on a joint declaration. “It happened the way it did today,” Mr Yermak said.

Russian negotiator Dmitry Kozak offered an even starker assessment. He said the Ukrainian government had not changed its long-standing positions in the seven-year-long conflict settlement talks in eastern Ukraine.

Separate talks in Moscow between British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey L. Lavrov also came to nothing, with Mr Lavrov likening them to “one person’s conversation mute with a deaf person”.

Ms Truss had said one of the purposes of the visit was to convey warnings to Russian officials about the severity of Western economic sanctions and other repercussions if they used military force in Ukraine. Lavrov countered by reiterating Russia’s position that it has no intention of invading Ukraine and that its army is only conducting exercises.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has offered to mediate, a proposal accepted by Ukraine but refused by Russia. Next week, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is due to travel to Kyiv and Moscow. And Russian officials have said they will respond in writing to proposals for security talks offered by the United States and NATO.

Russia has made a series of demands of the West, including reducing NATO’s military presence in Eastern Europe to 1990s levels and ensuring Ukraine could never join NATO . The United States called these demands “non-starters” and instead offered a series of proposals aimed at arms control.

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