Russian military exercises in Belarus will continue, providing Moscow with a large combat force within striking distance of the capital of Ukraine, which is facing increased shelling from Russia-backed separatist rebels.
The joint Russian-Belarusian drills were scheduled to be finished on Sunday until officials in Minsk announced they would be continued. The move is helping stoke fear that Russia will invade Ukraine with more than 150,000 troops it has arrayed along its border.
For months, U.S. and European Union officials have accused the Kremlin of planning to stage some sort of clandestine, false flag operation that could serve as a pretext for a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Charles Michel, president of the European Council, said the question is does Moscow actually want a dialogue.
“We cannot forever offer an olive branch while Russia conducts missile tests and continues to amass troops,” said Mr. Michel, according to The Associated Press.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told French President Emanuel Macron that he wouldn’t respond to Russian provocations but later condemned a “policy of appeasement” toward Moscow.
“For eight years, Ukraine has been holding back one of the greatest armies in the world,” Mr. Zelenskyy said, according to the Moscow Times.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had demanded that NATO remove its forces from Eastern Europe and formally deny membership to Ukraine.
But U.S. and officials with the alliance said Moscow has no say in whether a country becomes a NATO member.
The front line between Ukraine’s army and the Russian-backed separatists has been the scene of a dramatic increase in ceasefire violations.