On Thursday, Jan. 20, Russia announced that it would be sending its fleet, complete with warships, aircraft and army personnel, for a series of military exercises to “zones of responsibility.”
Some of those warships have been reported to be en route to the Black Sea, creating concerns in the West that the Russian government could be preparing for an invasion of Ukraine.
Lining up at the borders
The announcement made on Thursday revealed that Moscow will be conducting a “sweeping set of exercises” in all zones of its fleets’ responsibility, in the midst of tensions between Russia and the West.
Overall, the fleet will consist of 140 warships and support vessels, 60 planes, 1,000 pieces of military equipment, and 10,000 military servicemen.
“In accordance with a plan for training the Russian armed forces in 2022 a series of naval exercises will be held in January-February in all zones of the fleets’ responsibility under the general guidance of the commander-in-chief of the Russian Navy, Admiral Nikolay Yemenov,” The Russian News Agency (TASS) reported.
“The exercises will encompass seas washing Russia and also World Ocean areas of key importance,” the Russian Defense Ministry said. “There will be some exercises in the Mediterranean and Northern seas and the Sea of Okhotsk, in the Northeastern Atlantic and in the Pacific.”
According to The Guardian, Moscow has sent troops to the borders of Ukraine, and missile systems into Belarus – both moves that western officials and analysts believe could allow troops to threaten the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.
The Defense Ministry’s Facebook page showed a new diesel-electric submarine as part of its Pacific Fleet, and it was observed conducting a test of a Kalibr cruise missile from underwater.
In addition to the planned exercises in Europe’s seas, Russia also began a trilateral naval exercise with China and Iran in an area of 17,000 square kilometers north of the Indian Ocean – a routine that began in 2019.
Russia has commented that it has no plans to invade Ukraine. However, the government has demanded that NATO not expand to Ukraine and other former Soviet nations. Washington and its allies have since rejected the demands, but have expressed their intentions of continuing negotiations to reduce the tensions.
Fears from the West
With the buildup of Russian forces in key areas, particularly those near Ukraine, several governments in the West are concerned with the movement of Moscow’s military.
According to the Associated Press, the announcement of Russia’s exercises came after U.S. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that a “minor incursion” from Moscow into Ukraine could “result in a more measured response” from the U.S. and its allies.
“It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and we end up having to fight about what to do and not do,” Biden said in a news conference, “But if they actually do what they’re capable of doing with the forces amassed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia if they further invade Ukraine.”
Biden also made it “clear with President [Vladimir] Putin” that any Russian soldiers crossing the border to Ukraine would be considered an invasion, warning that killing Ukrainian soldiers would be crossing the line.
Washington has insisted that the U.S. and its Western allies will be “united” should Russia launch an incursion into Ukraine.
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday in Geneva to discuss Russia’s “sweeping wishlist of security demands.”
The U.S. embassy in Ukraine was told to evacuate family members, staff, as well as other government employees and Americans in general, in case of a Russian military move.
This week, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg claimed that the alliance “will not compromise on core principles such as the right for each nation to choose its own path.”
The New York Times reported that Biden is considering sending U.S. military forces to NATO Allies in the Baltics and Eastern Europe in case of a Russian invasion.
According to the Ukrainian Navy on Facebook, Ukraine and France have both held joint exercises in the Black Sea, with Spain joining in by sending its own naval forces to the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.
“Russia cannot tell any country what to do, so NATO will protect and defend the sovereignty of any country that can or wants to join NATO,” Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Edrogan will be making a visit to Ukraine at the beginning of February to hold talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the hopes of de-escalating the tensions between Russia and the former Soviet nation.