Russia held military exercises on Wednesday and deployed more troops and fighter jets to Belarus next month for exercises, as officials prepared for four-way talks in Paris over the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The Kremlin’s point man on Ukraine was set to meet with officials from France, Germany and Ukraine for “Normandy-format” talks in Paris against the backdrop of a Russian military build-up near Ukraine that has raised fears of invasion.
Russia insists it has no plans to invade, but the West has threatened heavy economic sanctions if it does. US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday he would consider personal sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin and Britain said on Wednesday it would not rule out doing the same.
Talks in Normandy to end the war in eastern Ukraine between Kiev and Russian-backed separatists have been going on for years with no real progress, but Wednesday’s talks can be seen as a positive sign of diplomacy taking place despite the rising tensions.
The clash over Ukraine caused a sell-off in Russian markets this week and the ruble fell again on Wednesday.
Interfax news agency quoted Russia’s defense ministry as saying it sent a paratrooper unit to Belarus on Wednesday, a day after they deployed artillery and marines ahead of joint exercises next month. It said Russia would also move Su-35 fighter jets to Belarus for the “Allied Resolve” exercises.
The build-up of Russian troops in Belarus, north of Ukraine, is creating a new front for a possible attack.
Separately, Russian artillery forces in the southern region of Rostov, which borders Ukraine, would practice firing later on Wednesday as part of a combat readiness inspection of the southern military district, the defense ministry said.
In the far north, Russian warships sailed into the Barents Sea to practice protecting a key Arctic shipping route, the Northern Fleet said. Moscow announced sweeping naval exercises last week.
A spokesman for the Kremlin’s representative on Ukraine, Dmitry Kozak, said talks would begin in Paris at 1100 GMT with a press conference expected after 1400.
Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskiy, said Ukraine is barred from talking directly with Russia-backed separatists.
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