Russia, Belarus to Hold Drills Near Ukraine Border After NATO Warns Kremlin About Invasion

The Russian buildup of troops and heavy equipment near Ukraine's border continues to raise concerns of a potential invasion, although Belarus announced it will hold joint military drills with Russia "to cover the southern borders," on Tuesday.

NATO foreign ministers warned Russia on Tuesday that any attempts to further destabilize Ukraine would be a costly error. Ukraine's northern border has had about 90,000 troops in the area following war games in Russia earlier in the year, and the buildup of military equipment and troops continues to make Ukraine wary.

According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukraine's intelligence service uncovered plans for a Russia-backed coup d'état last week. However, Russia denied the allegation and rejected the assertion that it is planning to invade Ukraine.

The United States has also shared intelligence with European allies warning them of a possible Russian incursion into Ukraine.

"We are very concerned about the movements we've seen along Ukraine's border. We know that Russia often combines those efforts with internal efforts to destabilize a country. That's part of the playbook, and we're looking at it very closely," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

Despite the worries, Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin announced that Belarus will conduct the drills with Russia "to cover the southern borders," near Ukraine.

Khrenin did not say when the exercises would take place but noted that they won't be as large-scale as the joint drills Belarus and Russia held in September.

Russia continued to deny allegations about a potential invasion and said NATO is the one threatening peace in the regions.

"Significant units and military equipment of NATO countries, including the U.S. and Britain, are being deployed closer to our borders," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during a news conference in Moscow. He alleged that the West has long provoked Ukraine "into anti-Russian actions."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Antony Blinken and Latvian President Egils Levits
The Russian buildup of troops and heavy equipment near Ukraine's border continues to raise concerns of a potential invasion, although Belarus announced it will hold joint military drills with Russia "to cover the southern borders," on Tuesday. Above, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, and Latvian President Egils Levits pose for the media in Riga, Latvia Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. Ints Kalnins/Pool Photo/Associated Press

"Any renewed aggression would trigger serious consequences," Blinken warned ahead of talks in Riga, Latvia with his counterparts in the 30-country military organization.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the NATO ministers will "together send an unmistakable message to the Russian government: NATO's support for Ukraine is unbroken and its independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty are not up for discussion."

"Russia would have to pay a high price for any form of aggression," Maas said. "Honest and sustainable de-escalation steps, which can only go via the route of talks, are all the more important now. I will not tire of stressing that the door to such talks is still open to Russia."

Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 after the country's Moscow-friendly president was driven from power by mass protests. Weeks later, Russia threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency that broke out in Ukraine's east.

Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of sending its troops and weapons to back the rebels. Moscow denied that, saying that Russians who joined the separatists were volunteers. More than 14,000 people have died in the fighting, which also has devastated Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland, known as Donbas.

A 2015 peace agreement brokered by France and Germany helped end large-scale battles, but efforts to reach a political settlement have failed and sporadic skirmishes have continued along the tense line of contact. Russia has refused recent overtures for talks with France and Germany.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the NATO ministers will send a message of support to Ukraine.

"We have seen this playbook from the Kremlin before when Russia falsely claimed its illegal annexation of Crimea was a response to NATO aggression. NATO is an alliance forged on the principle of defense, not provocation. Any suggestion that NATO is provoking the Russians is clearly false.

"Any action by Russia to undermine the freedom and democracy that our partners enjoy would be a strategic mistake," Truss said in a statement.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who is chairing the meeting in Latvia, underlined that Ukraine does not belong to the military organization so cannot benefit from the collective security guarantee available to member countries.

"We have different options, and we have demonstrated over the years in reaction to Russia's previous use of military force against Ukraine that we can sustain heavy economic and financial sanctions, political sanctions," Stoltenberg said.