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NATO says Russia to have 30,000 troops on drills in Belarus, north of Ukraine

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KYIV/BRUSSELS, Feb 3 (Reuters) – NATO said Russia had stepped up deployments to Ukraine’s northern neighbour Belarus in recent days and was expected to have 30,000 troops there for joint military exercises this month.

The Russia-Belarus exercises, running until Feb. 20, have provided Moscow with cover to further increase forces near Ukraine at a time when the United States and Britain have warned that Moscow may be gearing up for war.

Ukraine’s defence minister said Russia had currently massed a total of 115,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders.

Russia denies planning to invade Ukraine and has described the Allied Resolve exercises with Belarus as a rehearsal in repelling external aggression. It has not disclosed the size of its forces there but says they will withdraw after the drills.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said: “Over the last days, we have seen a significant movement of Russian military forces into Belarus.

“This is the biggest Russian deployment there since the Cold War, with an expected 30,000 combat troops” as well as Spetsnaz special operations forces, SU-35 fighter jets, S-400 air defence systems and nuclear-capable Iskander missiles, he said.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu arrived in Belarus on Thursday to inspect Russian and Belarusian troops and was due to meet Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, Interfax news agency said.

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