Ten days of joint military training between Russia and Belarus have begun despite continued worries of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Belarus is Russia’s closest ally and has a long border with Ukraine.
The maneuvers, which are estimated to be Russia’s largest deployment to Belarus since the Cold War, have been dubbed a “escalatory” action by the US. They amount to “psychological pressure,” according to Ukraine.
Despite massing over 100,000 troops on the border, Russia has consistently denied any ambitions to attack Ukraine.
The United States and other Western countries, on the other hand, have warned that an assault may occur at any time.
Moscow has stated that it cannot accept that Ukraine, a former Soviet republic with strong social and cultural links to Russia, may one day join Nato, and has insisted that this be ruled out. Since 2014, it has backed an armed insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
On Thursday, diplomats from around Europe are due to meet in order to defuse tensions.
The maneuvers with Belarus are scheduled to involve 30,000 Russian troops.
Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. After a disputed election in 2020 that sparked riots, the Kremlin backed Mr Lukashenko.
The combined drills, according to a Kremlin spokeswoman, are serious since Russia and Belarus are facing “unprecedented dangers.”
Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s EU ambassador, told the BBC that his nation still believes diplomacy may help de-escalate the Ukraine issue. After the drills, he claimed, Russian forces stationed in Belarus will return to their regular locations.
Later on Thursday, Russian and Ukrainian envoys, as well as France and Germany – known as the Normandy quartet – are set to have talks aimed at easing tensions.
Some believe that a fresh focus on the so-called Minsk accords, which aimed to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine, may be used to calm the present crisis.
In 2014-2015, Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany approved the agreements.
The Minsk agreements should be utilized to “create a sustainable political solution,” according to Philippe Etienne, France’s ambassador to the United States.
On Thursday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will go to Brussels and Warsaw in support of Nato members.
Mr Johnson’s visit comes amid a flurry of diplomatic action, with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace meeting their Russian counterparts in Moscow on Thursday.
Ms Truss said she was committed to speak up for freedom and democracy in Ukraine ahead of her first travel to Russia in four years, and that she planned to push Moscow to pursue a diplomatic solution.
Moscow has consistently blamed the increasing tensions in Ukraine on “the Anglo-Saxon states.”
It also called the United Kingdom’s assertions that the Kremlin was planning to build a pro-Russian puppet administration in Ukraine “hysteria.”
Meanwhile, on Thursday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will meet with the presidents of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, minor Nato member states that border Russia and were once part of the Soviet Union.
At a joint news conference with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on Wednesday, he stated, “The aim is to secure European security, and I think that will be done.”