Putin launches ‘strategic’ military exercises with ballistic missiles

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday launched “strategic” military exercises involving the firing of missiles, a new show of force from Moscow at a time when Washington says it is convinced of an imminent invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

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As incidents multiply on the front in eastern Ukraine, pro-Russian separatists, who accuse Kiev of wanting to retake their regions, have announced a “general mobilization” of men in a fit state to fight.

On the Ukrainian side, the military command announced on Saturday that a soldier had been killed in clashes with Moscow-backed separatists.

These announcements come at a time when Vladimir Putin is personally supervising large-scale military maneuvers and tests of ballistic and cruise missiles capable of carrying nuclear charges.

US President Joe Biden said he was “convinced” Friday evening that Vladimir Putin had decided to invade Ukraine, and that the multiplication of clashes was intended to create a “false justification” to launch the offensive within the week or even the coming days.

But he left the door open to dialogue. As long as an invasion has not occurred, “diplomacy is always a possibility,” he said, announcing a meeting between his Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov next Thursday. .

If the Kremlin continues to deny any intention to attack its neighbor, it demands guarantees for Russia’s security, such as the withdrawal of NATO from Eastern Europe, which the West refuses.

In eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian Armed Forces and pro-Russian separatists accused each other on Saturday of serious ceasefire violations.

The Ukrainian army reported 66 exchanges of mortar fire, 82 and 110 mm caliber, on the towns of the front until 7:00 (4:00 GMT), a particularly high number.

And OSCE observers said on Saturday they had seen a “dramatic increase” in ceasefire violations, to a total of 870 on Friday.

According to them, the number of armed incidents on the front line is now the same as before July 2020, when an agreement was reached to strengthen the ceasefire.

Despite the deterioration of the situation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has decided to maintain his planned trip to the Munich security conference on Saturday.

According to the presidency, the situation in the east of the country “remains fully under control”.

For her part, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Saturday that Russia was carrying out a “flagrant attempt to rewrite the rules of the international order”. “We can’t let that happen,” she said.

Pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces have been fighting since 2014 in eastern Ukraine, in a conflict that has already claimed more than 14,000 lives.

In addition, the Russian state agency Ria Novosti reported on Friday two explosions, including that of an oil pipeline, in Lugansk, a city in eastern Ukraine held by the separatists. And the authorities of the pro-Russian secessionist territories have ordered the evacuation of civilians to Russia.

On Saturday, the Russian region of Rostov, bordering Ukraine, declared a state of emergency over the influx of refugees from separatist regions in eastern Ukraine. Several thousand people have left these areas, according to pro-Russian local officials.

For its part, Russia has never disclosed the number of its soldiers massed on the borders of Ukraine or participating in maneuvers in neighboring Belarus.

However, Washington estimates that Russia has 190,000 men on the outskirts of Ukraine and on its territory, including the separatist forces. It is “the largest concentration of military troops” since the Cold War, said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, judging that Moscow was “able, without further warning, to attack”.

Russian troops massed on the border with Ukraine are “deploying” and “preparing to strike” that country, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said during a visit to Lithuania on Saturday.

The exercises conducted by Russia on Saturday mobilize forces from the Southern Military District, the Aerospace Forces, the Northern and Black Sea Fleets as well as the “Strategic Forces”. The latter are equipped with missiles with intercontinental range, strategic bombers, submarines, surface ships and naval aviation carrying conventional missiles.

According to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, this is a “regular training process”.

The West unanimously promised Moscow devastating economic sanctions in the event of an invasion of Ukraine.

But Vladimir Putin again dismissed the threat: “Sanctions will be introduced no matter what. Whether there is a reason or not, they will find one, because their aim is to slow down the development of Russia”.

The speaker of the lower house of the Russian Parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, assured that Russia would “defend” the “Russian citizens” who live in the separatist territories in Ukraine if their lives were “threatened”.

“If war begins, Europe will become the theater of hostilities,” he warned.


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