Russia: The West's are playing 'exactly into' Putin's games
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A joint military exercise of Russia with China and Iran is to take place on Friday as the three nations hold naval drills in the north of the Indian Ocean. The purpose, an Iranian official has claimed, is to strengthen their “common future”.
Mostafa Tajoldin, a public relations official from Iran’s armed forces, told Iran’s ISNA news agency the exercise, under the name ‘2022 Marine Security Belt’, is the third joint naval drill between the three countries.
Mr Tajoldin said: “The purpose of this drill is to strengthen security and its foundations in the region, and to expand multilateral cooperation between the three countries to jointly support world peace, maritime security and create a maritime community with a common future.”
The operation is not the only joint military exercise conducted by the Kremlin.
Another exercise, this one labelled ‘Allied Resolve’, will be conducted in Eastern Europe as a joint operation with Belarus starting in February.
It involves more than 140 warships, 60 aircraft and around 10,000 servicemen, and its goal is to test and improve the countries’ ability to “repel external aggression”, the Deputy Russian Defence Minister has said.
The Interfax news agency quoted Alexander Fomin as saying: “The goal of the exercise is to fine-tune the tasks of suppressing and repelling external aggression during a defensive operation, countering terrorism and protecting the interests of the Union State (Russia and Belarus).”
Moscow’s joint operations come amid growing tensions between the government of Vladimir Putin and the West over the conflict with Ukraine.
‘Allied Resolve’ is set to be held near Belarus’s western rim, the borders of Poland and Lithuania and its southern flank with Ukraine, and be divided into two phases, the Belarusian Defence Ministry explained.
During the first phase, until February 9, Moscow and Minsk will rehearse deploying troops, defending military facilities and assessing their air defence capabilities.
During the second, from February 10 to 20, both sides’ troops will practice “destroying illegal armed formations and the enemy’s sabotage and reconnaissance groups”.
Russian military forces and hardware began arriving in ex-Soviet Belarus for ‘Allied Resolve’ on Monday, and Mr Fomin said 12 Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets, two units of the S-400 anti-aircraft missile system and a Pantsir missile system would also be deployed.
The plans bring anything but reassurance to the West that Moscow has no intention to escalate its row with Kiev.
With 100,000 Russian troops currently amassed near Ukraine’s border, the US, EU and UK are all warning the Kremlin of grave consequences if it attacks.
The conflict between the two Eastern nations, once the two biggest republics of the Soviet Union, took strength in October last year after a brief build-up earlier in April.
At the core of the crisis are the tightening ties of the Ukrainian government and NATO, which Moscow views as a threat.
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Amid security talks last week, Sergei Ryabkov, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, said: “For us, it’s absolutely mandatory to make sure that Ukraine never, never, ever becomes a member of NATO.”
As far back as 2008, the military alliance promised Kiev it would one day grant them membership.
While it is unlikely Ukraine will be invited to join anytime soon, as confirmed by US President Joe Biden on Wednesday, the West is adamant about giving in to Moscow’s demands.
Wendy Sherman, US Deputy Secretary of State, said: “We were firm… in pushing back on security proposals that are simply non-starters to the United States.”
Mr Putin also wants guarantees from NATO that “strategic” or nuclear weapons are never stationed on Ukrainian soil.
On Friday, Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State, sought to offer Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, a “diplomatic off-ramp” to ease tensions.
The two officials’ meeting in Geneva follows claims by Mr Biden that President Putin will certainly “test the West”.
Speaking to reporters, the US President said he predicted a “minor incursion” from Russia on Ukraine.
Press Secretary Jen Psaki added: “If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our Allies.”
In response, the Kremlin said any warnings of serious consequences for Russia would destabilise the situation further rather than help to relieve tensions.
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