A day after Washington said it was putting 8,500 US troops on alert for possible deployment to bolster NATO forces in Europe, the Russian military announced it was conducting new drills involving 6,000 troops near Ukraine and within the Crimea region.
The drills included firing exercises with fighter jets, bombers, anti-aircraft systems, and more than 20 ships from the Black Sea and Caspian fleets, the Russian Defense Ministry said.
On Wednesday, the navy ships were seen performing military drills in the Black Sea, which Russia shares with Ukraine.
The Russian Defense Ministry claimed the goal of the drill was to train safe manoeuvring in areas with heavy shipping, establish communications, and organise air defence at sea.
The ministry also pointed out that this was part of a series of exercises “in all areas of responsibility” planned for the Russian navy in January and February.
Over 140 warships and support vessels, more than 60 aircraft, 1,000 units of military equipment, about 10,000 military personnel will be engaged in the exercises.
Meanwhile, on the ground, Russian tanks were moving towards firing ranges in the country’s southwestern Rostov region, which borders the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
‘We stand by Ukraine’
In Ukraine, high-level politicians seem to be toning down the threat posed by the current build-up of Russian troops on their border, as Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba claims the current number of soldiers is insufficient for a full attack.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also repeatedly said the situation was “under control” and support from NATO countries was still amplifying.
Romania President Klaus Iohannis stated on Wednesday afternoon that his country is ready to host NATO troops, underlining that “NATO is only acting defensively.”
In Berlin, German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht welcomed her British counterpart Ben Wallace for bilateral talks.
During a joint news conference before the talks, Lambrecht defended Germany’s decision not to send lethal weapons to Ukraine.
“We do not want to fuel these conflicts even further,” she said. “And I believe that this is also the right way in this case.”
Wallace backed her up, saying the advantage of being in NATO is that there are 30 allies, and “plenty of assistances to go around.”
The British defence minister also said that if Russia would invade Ukraine, the pending inauguration of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline built to transport gas directly from Russia to Germany should be under consideration.
The €9.85 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline is currently awaiting approval from Germany and the European Union.
While not delivering weapons, Germany will deliver 5,000 military helmets to Ukraine following a request from the country’s embassy.
Lambrecht added that it was “a very clear signal we stand by Ukraine”.