The Russian navy will hold snap live-fire drills in the Black Sea today as the first of two US warships is expected to arrive, the country’s military has announced.
Two missile ships – the Graivoron and Vyshny Volochek – will take part in target practice alongside the missile hovercraft Samum, accompanied by the frigate Admiral Makarov and mine-sweeping ship Ivan Golubets, the Russian navy’s Black Sea fleet command said.
The drill comes as the first of two US warships – thought to be destroyers USS Donald Cook and USS Roosevelt – is expected to arrive in the Black Sea today, despite Russian warnings to keep them away ‘for their own good’.
Meanwhile Ukraine announced it was also holding its own land-based drills with troops rehearsing defence against a tank and infantry attack.
Russia’s military buildup on the border with Ukraine shows no sign of abating today as fresh video revealed gunboats, landing craft and artillery moving into the region – despite Joe Biden calling for Putin to ‘de-escalate tensions’ during a phone call yesterday in which he also proposed a summit.
Putin’s spokesman said that Russia is now ‘studying’ that proposal but that it is ‘too early to talk about this meeting in terms of specifics.’
There are now thought to be 83,000 Russian troops stationed along the Ukrainian border alongside an array of hardware including tanks and anti-aircraft missiles, which Russia claims is being deployed for two weeks of training exercises in response to a NATO build-up – which the alliance says does not exist.
Instead, western observers believe the build-up is designed to test Joe Biden response – with German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer saying today that Moscow is trying ‘to provoke a reaction’.
‘Together with Ukraine, we won’t be drawn into this game,’ she said.
Separately, Margarita Simonyan – editor-in-chief of Russian state-run outlets RT and Sputnik and staunchly pro-Kremlin mouthpiece – warned that war between the two nuclear-armed superpowers is ‘inevitable’ and encouraged Moscow to prepare itself.
Three Russian missile ships, a frigate and a mine-sweeping vessel will take part in snap live-fire drills in the Black Sea today amid soaring tensions around the border with Ukraine
The drills are taking place as the first of two US warships deployed to the Black Sea is expected to arrive, despite Russian warnings for them to stay away ‘for their own good’
Mine-sweeping vessel Ivan Golubets (pictured right during previous live-fire drills) is one of five vessels from Russia’s Black Sea fleet taking part in exercises today, the nbay has confirmed
The drills come amid a massive build-up of Russian forces along the Ukrainian border which Moscow says is for training purposes but observers believe is designed as a test for President Joe Biden
The Kremlin today said that Putin is ‘studying’ proposals for a summit that Biden suggested during a phone call yesterday, but that it is too early to say if it will go ahead
The USS Roosevelt, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, is thought to be one of two warships en route to the Black Sea as a deterrent to Russia (file image)
The USS Donald Cook is also thought to be on its way to the Black Sea, and is due to arrive either tomorrow or on Thursday amid a massive build-up of Russian troops
Simonyan theorised that the war would not be a conventional one , but will instead be fought over information networks – with all-out cyberwarfare, nationwide blackouts, and the targeted disruption of internet services deployed as weapons.
‘In conventional war, we could defeat Ukraine in two days,’ Simonyan said, ‘but it will be another kind of war. We’ll do it, and then [the U.S.] will respond by turning off power to [the Russian city] Voronezh.’
Simonyan encouraged Putin to shore up Russia’s ‘vulnerabilities’ to cyber warfare while exploiting the US’s ‘catastrophic’ educational standards in order to achieve victory.
Speaking about today’s exercises, the Russian navy said: ‘In the sea, the crews of the ships will conduct single and joint test artillery fires at surface and air targets.
‘The role of a simulated enemy will be played by naval target shields. In addition to ships, airplanes and helicopters of naval aviation and air defense of the fleet will be involved in the check.’
As the two militaries rattled sabres, diplomatic machines also sprung into action with British foreign secretary Dominic Raab due in Brussels today for NATO talks.
He will be among NATO foreign and defence ministers holding a video meeting which will be chaired by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, and with U.S. defence and foreign ministers at NATO headquarters.
The office of Ukrainian president Vlodomyr Zelensky also said that he had spoken with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga today who had expressed his support for Kiev amid the standoff.
Meanwhile in Moscow, Biden’s offer of a summit was being hailed as evidence that he blinked first during the standoff – with one politician saying Russia is now ‘getting the respect it deserves’.
‘It was a very important step forward… news on a global scale,’ said Konstantin Kosachev, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Russian parliament’s upper house.
Separately, Putin’s foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov invited John Sullivan, the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, to talks on Wednesday, the Russian foreign ministry said, according to the RIA and TASS news agencies.
Ushakov told the ambassador that Moscow would act decisively if the United States undertook any new ‘unfriendly steps’ such as imposing sanctions, RIA reported.
The U.S. embassy in Moscow did not immediately respond to a request for comment about those talks.
Russia has been preparing to be hit by new sanctions since Biden said last month that Putin would pay a price for alleged Russian meddling in the November 2020 U.S. presidential election. Moscow denies interfering.
A machinegunner of the pro-Russian Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) points a weapon at fighting positions on the line of separation from the Ukrainian armed forces in Luhansk Region, Ukraine, on Tuesday
Snipers of the Ukrainian armed forces aim their rifles during training at a firing range near the town of Marink, Donetsk region, on Tuesday
A soldier from the pro-Russian Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) is reflected in a mirror at fighting positions on the line of separation from the Ukrainian armed forces in Luhansk on Tuesday
Ukrainian armoured personnel carriers are seen assembled near the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine where government forces have been fighting Russian-backed rebels since 2015
Ukrainian soldiers train using a heavy machine gun near the border with Russia amid increasing tensions between the two countries which has seen Moscow rapidly increase troop numbers
A Russian minister warned the US against deploying troops to Crimea and said staying away was ‘for their own good’. Pictured: Ukrainian Armed Forces patrol the border in Donbass
Ukrainian servicemen hold a position on the frontline with Russia backed separatists near small city of Marinka, Donetsk
Ukrainian soldiers are seen near a region occupied by Russian-backed separatist groups where fighting has increased in recent weeks, with at least 28 of Kiev’s men killed so far this year
Elsewhere, Russian defence analyst Pavel Felgenhauer claimed that Putin may have ordered as many as half a million troops to the border, which would mark the largest massing of Russian arms in decades.
‘The exact number of people participating is not officially indicated,’ he said, before adding: ‘Apparently more than half a million.’
It comes after Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defence minister, said yesterday that Russian forces massing on the border are merely there to carry out training exercises in response to NATO drills.
‘Over three weeks, two armies and three airborne units were successfully deployed to the western borders of the Russian Federation in areas for performing combat training exercises,’ he said.
He added that the ‘troops have shown full readiness and ability to carry out tasks to ensure the country’s military security’ and that the exercises would be completed ‘within two weeks’.
In a news conference with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, NATO leader Stoltenberg said it was actually Russia which had built up arms in the region, calling its latest military movements ‘unjustified, unexplained and deeply concerning.’ ‘NATO stands with Ukraine,’ he added.
Stationed alongside the Russian troops are tanks, artillery, armoured personnel carriers, anti-aircraft missile systems, landing craft and artillery boats.
In response, the Pentagon on Tuesday confirmed that troop withdrawals from Germany approved under Trump will be cancelled and an additional 500 soldiers will be sent to the country.
The build-up has been matched by an uptick in violence between Ukrainian government forces fighting Russian-backed rebel groups in the country’s east, with another Ukrainian soldier killed on Tuesday.
Alexey Mamchiy, 40, was killed by shrapnel from an enemy grenade which was dropped on him by a drone, according to Ukrainian media. It brings the total number of Ukrainian troops killed in the region this year to 29.
Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov, speaking in Moscow on Tuesday, warned the US to keep its distance from Russian forces in the Black Sea, saying the risk of unspecified ‘incidents’ is very high.
‘There is absolutely nothing for American ships to be doing near our shores, this is purely a provocative action,’ he said. ‘Provocative in the direct sense of the word: they are testing our strength… They will not succeed.
‘We warn the United States that it will be better for them to stay far away from Crimea and our Black Sea coast. It will be for their own good.’
He added: ‘The United States is our adversary and does everything it can to undermine Russia’s position on the world stage. We do not see any other elements in their approach. Those are our conclusions.’
‘If there is any aggravation, we of course will do everything to ensure our security and the safety of our citizens, wherever they are,’ Ryabkov added.
‘But Kiev and its allies in the West will be entirely responsible for the consequences of a hypothetical exacerbation.’
Meanwhile the US State Department confirmed that Blinken had met with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kubela in Brussels, saying he ‘affirmed the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression.’
‘The Secretary expressed concern about Russia’s deliberate actions to escalate tensions with Ukraine, including through its aggressive rhetoric and disinformation, increasing ceasefire violations, and movement of troops in occupied Crimes and near Ukraine’s borders,’ a statement added.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken (right) meets with Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba (left) in Brussels Tuesday as Washington threw its full backing behind its eastern European ally
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov (pictured) said there was no need for American ships ‘on our shores’, claiming it was ‘pure provocation’
‘Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Kuleba discussed the importance of advancing rule of law and economic reforms to strengthen Ukraine’s institutions, support anti-corruption efforts, and further its Euro-Atlantic integration aspirations.’
Ukraine says Russia has accumulated 41,000 troops at its border with eastern Ukraine and 42,000 more in Crimea. The numbers are likely to grow as the troops keep arriving.
The Kremlin argues that Russia is free to deploy its troops wherever it wants on its territory and has repeatedly accused the Ukrainian military of ‘provocative actions’ along the line of control and of planning to retake control of the rebel regions by force.
Kremlin officials charged that Kyiv’s actions have threatened Russia’s security, warning that Russia may intervene to protect Russian speakers in the east.
Underlying Tuesday’s meeting is also Ukraine’s wish to become a member of NATO over the vehement objections of Moscow.
Stoltenberg insisted it was up to the alliance’s 30 members to decide who could join the group, ‘and no one else has any right to try to meddle or to interfere in that process.
‘It’s a sovereign right of every nation like Ukraine to apply for membership.
‘This is an important principle, because Russia is now trying to reestablish some kind of sphere of influence where they try to decide what neighbors can do.
‘And that is a world we are really trying to leave behind,’ the NATO chief said.
‘Russia must end this military buildup in and around Ukraine, stop its provocations and de-escalate immediately,’ Stoltenberg added.
The latest warnings come after Russian state TV new anchor Dmitry Kiselyov warned that Russia is ‘one step away from war’ in Ukraine during a primetime broadcast in Russia on Sunday.
He branded Ukraine a ‘Nazi’ state, saying that Russia may be forced to ‘de-Nazify’ it buy force – a process he said would bring about its ‘economic and military collapse’.
A news report on Russia’s Channel One also likened Zelensky – a former actor – to Napoleon after digging up images of him playing the part in an old TV comedy.
The Ukrainian leader was dreaming of ‘Napoleonic ambitions’ by hoping NATO would come to his aid against Russia, the report said.
But it was clear Zelensky was not evaluating himself ‘sensibly’. Portraying Napoleon on screen ‘is not the same as doing it,’ the report added.
Another report labelled the ex-TV comedian Zelensky a ‘commander-in-chief comic’, a ‘president of war’ who was ‘inciting’ conflict.
Viewers were told that Ukraine with NATO support, rather than Russia, was building up military firepower close to Donetsk and Luhansk, which are controlled by pro-Moscow rebels following a civil war in 2014 that has led to more than 14,000 deaths.
‘Never before has there been so much Nato military hardware in Ukraine,’ claimed the report.
It also highlighted alleged arrivals of US transport planes and Pentagon-leased cargo vessels in strategic Ukrainian port Odessa.
These claims could not be immediately corroborated.
Videos have also shown tanks, mobile artillery, howitzers, armoured personnel carriers and support vehicles being ferried to the front – many of which are being massed at a camp near the city of Voronezh, around 115 miles from the border.
Russia has continued to move artillery pieces (left), armoured vehicles (right) and troops to its border with Ukraine amid warnings the build-up could spark war in Europe
Michael McFaul, former US ambassador to Moscow, said the build-up – which is being carriedo out in full view of cameras (above ) – is ‘definitely’ designed to test Joe Biden
Videos from Rostov-on-Don, around 100 miles from the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, show tanks (left) and support vehicles being moved closer to the border
Mendel added that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has requested talks with Putin over the troop buildup, but has not yet received a response.
Zelenskiy will this week travel to Paris to discuss the rising tensions with European allies.
Asked by BBC Radio 4 how concerned world leaders should be by the situation in Ukraine, Mr McFaul responded simply: ‘Very.’
While US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has threatened ‘consequences and costs’ if Russia moves into Ukraine, Mr McFaul said his threat does not go far enough.
He called on the White House should be explicit in spelling out what its retaliation would be if Russia attacked, in the hopes of changing the calculation Putin makes before giving the order.
‘Sanctions almost never change Putin’s behaviour post-facto, but they might change his calculations before he decides to make a move,’ he said.
He added that the G7 should also put out a statement condemning Russia’s actions instead of forcing America to take its stand alone.
Invited to speculate on why Putin is now making an issue out of a conflict that has been smouldering in eastern Ukraine for the past five years, Mr McFaul pointed to ‘tough’ things that Biden has said about the Russian president since taking office.
Back in March, Biden called Putin ‘a killer’ while threatening to retaliate against Russian attempts to interfere in the 2020 election.
The remark caused fury in Moscow, as Putin’s spokesman called it ‘unprecedented’ and said it is clear that Biden ‘does not want to improve relations with us, and we will continue to proceed from this’.
Observers have also pointed to pressure mounting on Putin from within Russia as a reason for him to ratchet up simmering tensions.
The president is facing slumping popularity in the polls, repeated leaks to the media about his closely-guarded private life, and serious opposition in the form of Alexei Navalny – the now-jailed critic who sparked mass protests back in January.
Andrea Kendall-Taylor, of the Center for a New American Security, told Foreign Policy magazine that ‘it feels like Putin is drumming up the besieged Russia narrative’.
Amid the tensions, Russian media warned on Monday that the country is ‘one step away from war’ as anchors branded Ukraine a ‘Nazi’ state and played footage of weapons being moved to the border.
Ukraine has begun pumping out its own images of military preparations, including troops practicing with an anti-tank launcher
Ukrainian troops practice with anti-tank missiles and grenade launchers as the government warns of the risk of Russian invasion
A Russian ‘peacekeeping’ vehicle is seen on the move in Transnistria, in Moldova, along Ukraine’s western flank
Moscow also unveiled a new video of its latest weaponry marking Day of the Air Defence Forces.
More footage showed the first recent Russian military massing on Ukraine’s western flank, with movements in Transnistria, a no-man’s land controlled by Moscow that borders Moldova.
Some carried ‘peacekeeper’ signs, normal for Moscow forces in the breakaway territory. It was not immediately clear where the forces were heading.
Troops and equipment have also been on the move in annexed Crimea, along with the Russian regions of Pskov, Ryazan, Rostov-on-Don, and elsewhere.
Images also emerged from Ukraine of forces doing drills with the Korsar (Corsar) light portable anti tank missile system.
And reports say US military reconnaissance planes P-8A Poseidon and Lockheed EP-3E Orion have been spotted over the Black Sea close to Crimea during the weekend.
It comes after Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, warned last week of the threat of a ‘second Srebrenica’ against Russian speakers in Ukraine – referencing a massacre of Muslims by Bosnian Serb forces during Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war.
Deputy head of the presidential administration Dmitry Kozak warned that, if Russia finds reason to intervene in the conflict, then it would be the ‘beginning of the end’ for Ukraine.
Military action would be ‘not a shot in the leg, but in the face’, he added.
The conflict between Russian and Ukraine was sparked by a revolution in 2014 that saw the overthrow of Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovych and the rise of a pro-European government.
Fearing that it was about to lose influence over a key regional ally along with the use of assets such as the port of Sevastopol in Crimea, Russia marched troops into the peninsula and annexed it – followed by a ‘referendum’ that showed overwhelming support for it to join Russia, though critics said the vote was corrupt.
Moscow also threw its backing behind separatist groups in the country’s east, where many ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers live, which have been fighting a war with Ukrainian government forces ever since.
Initially intense fighting has since settled into an uneasy stalemate, with casualties frequent but the total number low. Ukraine says around 50 of its troops died fighting there in 2020, though that is likely to increase this year.
But tensions have rapidly escalated as Putin builds up forces on the Russian side of the border to levels not seen since the 2014 annexation, raising fears that he may make another territorial grab.