Live Updates: Russian Troops Will Extend Drills in Belarus, Near Ukraine Border

U.S. and NATO officials have warned that the large-scale maneuvers pose a threat to Ukraine. The president of Ukraine, marking the anniversary of protests that toppled a pro-Russian government in 2014, urged his compatriots “to fight for their future.”
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An estimated 30,000 Russian troops will stay longer in Belarus, bordering Ukraine.
A joint military exercise between Russia and Belarus near Baranovichi, Belarus, on Saturday.
ImageA joint military exercise between Russia and Belarus near Baranovichi, Belarus, on Saturday.
A joint military exercise between Russia and Belarus near Baranovichi, Belarus, on Saturday.Credit…Emile Ducke for The New York Times

Russia’s large-scale military deployment in Belarus, which the United States has long warned could be used as a pretext to build an invasion force aimed at Ukraine, will be extended beyond Sunday, when joint exercises had been scheduled to conclude, Belarus’s defense minister announced.

After repeated assurances from Russia and Belarus that the drills would end this weekend as planned, the Belarusian defense minister said on Sunday that the two countries’ militaries would continue to “test” their capabilities because of what they claimed were heightened tensions in eastern Ukraine.

The apparent extension of the exercises — which NATO has said involve 30,000 Russian troops, Moscow’s largest deployment on Belarus territory since the end of the Cold War — put further pressure on Ukraine, which shares a roughly 665-mile border with Belarus that is largely unguarded.

Belarus’s defense minister, Lt. Gen. Viktor Khrenin, cited an escalation of violence in eastern Ukraine as the reason for continuing the exercises, although Ukrainian officials say Russia-backed separatists are responsible for the increase in tensions.

On Sunday, separatist leaders suspended a wide range of public activities in the eastern region, known as the Donbas, according to a statement posted on their Telegram channel.

The statement released by the self-proclaimed government in the region offered no evidence that there was a danger to the public.

And it was part of an ominous shift in the long-running conflict in the Donbas, where the Russia-backed rebels in recent days have called for civilians to evacuate to Russia and for residents to take up arms against a possible invasion by Ukraine. Ukraine has denied plans to invade, and Western officials have described the separatists’ claims as lies intended to justify a military intervention by Moscow.

General Khrenin said on Sunday that because of “the growing military activity on the external borders of the Union State and the exacerbation of the situation in the Donbas, the presidents of Belarus and Russia have made the decision to continue the inspection of reaction forces.”

The union state, until recently a largely aspirational entity, refers to a merged state comprising Russia and Belarus that was initiated in 1997 but has recently begun to take on a concrete form as Russia has subordinated the Belarusian military and other state structures to its effective command.

General Khrenin did not elaborate on what tests would be carried out, or how long they would last. But his remarks indicated Russian troops would not be leaving Belarus, at least not immediately.

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