Ukraine launches a “special operation” on the border of Belarus, conducts spear exercises

KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine, which has accused Russia of amassing troops and says Belarus may send migrants across its border, launched an operation on Wednesday to bolster its border, including military exercises for anti-tank and airborne units.

The Ukrainian border authority said the “special operation” on the border with Belarus involved forces from the National Guard, police, armed forces and other reservists.

“Aviation and drones will be actively used for patrol and surveillance,” the service said in a statement.

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Ukraine has deployed 8,500 additional troops to its border with Belarus, saying it fears being drawn into a migrant crisis, which has caused the European Union to accuse Minsk of transporting people from the Middle East and pushing them into neighboring Poland. Belarus denies raising the crisis.

Kiev also fears that Russia will use the border with Belarus, a close ally of Russia, to launch a military offensive.

The head of Ukraine’s military intelligence told Military Times this weekend that Russia had more than 92,000 troops massed around the Ukrainian border and was preparing to launch an offensive by the end of January or the beginning of February.

Moscow rejected such suggestions as inflammatory and complained about what it says increases NATO activity in the region.

OSCE Special Representative Mikko Kinunin said in a statement that monitoring teams reported damage to civilian homes and infrastructure on both sides of the conflict in eastern Ukraine due to heavy weapons.

He said, “The average number of daily violations of the ceasefire exceeded the number before the implementation of measures to strengthen the ceasefire in July 2020”.

Relations between Ukraine and Russia collapsed in 2014 after Moscow backed separatists who took control of part of eastern Ukraine, an area Kiev says it wants to take back.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov visited Washington this week and his ministry said Ukrainian, British and US intelligence had exchanged information and “the same conclusions were obtained”.

Reznikov said that during his visit he met the defense ministers of Britain and the United States, who have already begun consultations with other European Union and NATO member states.

“The reaction will be very harsh – as far as I know, the head of the Kremlin was warned about this directly during the visit of a senior US official to Russia,” the ministry quoted Reznikov as saying.

Ukraine said on Tuesday it must defend its right to independence and conducted a series of military exercises across the country.

Ukraine, which is seeking to join NATO, received a large shipment of US munitions and Javelin missiles earlier this year, drawing criticism from Moscow. The Ukrainian Navy on Tuesday received two refurbished former US Coast Guard boats as part of a $2.5 billion aid package for Ukraine. Read more

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Additional reporting by Natalia Zenets. Editing by Peter Graf and Alistair Bell

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