Ukraine and Russia step up military alert with combat manoeuvres

Russia staged military drills in the Black Sea, south of Ukraine, yesterday and said it needed to sharpen the combat-readiness of its conventional and nuclear forces because of heightened Nato activity near its borders.

Ukraine, which with its ally the US has said it believes Russia may be preparing an invasion, staged exercises of its own near the border with Belarus.

The increase of military activity on both sides follows weeks of rising tension that have raised the risk of war between the two neighbours, even though Russian president Vladimir Putin has denied aggressive intent and Western intelligence sources have said they do not see any invasion as imminent.

The US and Nato have signalled their backing for Ukraine in ways Moscow considers provocative, including through warship manoeuvres this month in the Black Sea and a delivery of US patrol boats to the Ukrainian navy.

British foreign secretary Liz Truss said yesterday it would be “a grave mistake from Russia” to attack Ukraine.

Russian fighter planes and ships practised repelling air attacks on naval bases and responding with air strikes during military drills yesterday in the Black Sea, Interfax reported.

Separately, the news agency quoted Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu as saying the need for Russia to further develop its armed forces was dictated by “the complicated military and political conditions in the world and the growing activity of Nato countries near Russia’s borders”.

He said raising the armed forces’ capabilities, supporting the combat readiness of nuclear forces and strengthening the potential of non-nuclear deterrence were among the priorities.

Mr Shoigu on Tuesday complained that US bombers had rehearsed a nuclear strike on Russia earlier this month and said the planes had come too close to the Russian border, drills the Pentagon said adhered to international protocols.

Ukraine yesterday held what it called a “special operation” at the border with Belarus, including drone exercises and military drills for anti-tank and airborne units.

It has deployed 8,500 extra troops to the border.

Ukraine also worries that the border with Belarus, a Russian ally, could be used by Russia to stage a military assault.

The head of Ukraine’s military intelligence told the Military Times that Russia had more than 92,000 troops massed around Ukraine’s borders and was preparing for an attack.

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