After weeks of rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine, along with its Western allies, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Wednesday that his country is boosting combat readiness due to NATO activity near its borders.
“The tense military and political situation in the world and NATO’s increased activity near the Russian borders prompt the need to further develop the armed forces qualitatively,” Shoigu said, referring to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization made up of 30 member nations including the United States.
Top priorities for the Russian forces, he added, include “raising their combat capability, maintaining the nuclear forces’ combat readiness, and strengthening the non-nuclear deterrence forces.”
Reuters reported that both Russia and Ukraine are stepping up military drills, noting that while “Russian fighter planes and ships practiced repelling air attacks on naval bases and responding with air attacks” in the Black Sea Wednesday, Ukrainian forces “held what it called a ‘special operation’ at the border with Belarus, including drone exercises and military drills for anti-tank and airborne units.”
Detailing Ukraine’s operation, the news agency added:
It has deployed 8,500 extra troops to its border with Belarus, saying it fears being drawn into the migrant crisis, which has seen the European Union accuse Minsk of flying in people from the Middle East and pushing them to enter neighbouring Poland. Belarus denies fomenting the crisis.
Kyiv also worries that the border with Belarus, a close Russian ally, could be used by Russia to stage a military assault.
Ukrainian officials have recently raised alarm about a buildup of Russian troops near their shared border as British and U.S. intelligence sources have warned of a possible invasion. Moscow has dismissed the suggestion that Russia intends to invade Ukraine and expressed concerns about Western efforts to supply its neighbor with high-tech weapons.
“Kyiv is itself building up its forces, Kyiv is being helped to build up its forces, Kyiv is being supplied with a significant amount of weapons, including modern high-tech weapons,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday.
“The number of provocations is growing and growing significantly. What’s more, these provocations are being carried out with weapons being supplied by NATO countries,” Peskov said. “And we are observing this with great alarm.”
The Russian defense minister’s comments about NATO and the boost to combat readiness came a day after he signed a roadmap for closer military cooperation with China through 2025.
Highlighting that the two countries “have been strategic partners for many years,” he said that “in conditions of increasing geopolitical turbulence and growing conflict potential in various parts of the world, the development of our interaction is especially relevant.”
Shoigu also pointed to American planes flying about 12 miles from his country’s borders, saying that “this month, during the U.S. Global Thunder strategic force exercise, 10 strategic bombers practiced the scenario of using nuclear weapons against Russia practically simultaneously from the western and eastern directions.”
A Pentagon spokesperson, Lt. Col. Anton Semelroth, pushed back, saying that “these missions were announced publicly at the time, and closely planned with [Strategic Command], [European Command], allies, and partners to ensure maximum training and integration opportunities as well as compliance with all national and international requirements and protocols.”
Reuters noted that “the top Russian and U.S. military officers, Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, spoke by telephone on Tuesday but neither side disclosed the contents of the conversation.”
U.S. President Joe Biden—who recently held a virtual summit with his Chinese counterpart—is under mounting pressure to improve Washington’s relations with both China and Russia.
Biden and his colleagues “must step back from the brink of a U.S.-Russia war, and then from the larger Cold War with China and Russia that they have so blindly and foolishly stumbled into,” CodePink’s Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J.S. Davies wrote earlier this week, warning that an armed conflict with either nation “would risk escalating into World War III.”