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Ukraine and Russia trade accusations of shelling and ceasefire violations – live updates | World news

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The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko, are set to meet shortly in a summit that could have important implications for the military crisis on Ukraine’s borders.

The two leaders are set to discuss what will happen to the estimated 30,000 Russian troops in Belarus after the Allied Resolve joint exercises conclude on 19 February.

“We will make all appropriate decisions tomorrow,” Lukashenko said when asked about the troops during a visit to the Osipovichi training ground on Thursday. He arrived in Moscow on Friday morning and will meet with Putin at the Kremlin.

Up to 30,000 Russian troops, as well as almost all of the Belarusian armed forces, are taking part in the drills, according to the Russian defence ministry. Western officials have warned that the drills could be cover for preparations for an invasion of Ukraine and threaten a possible attack on Kyiv.

Satellite imagery has shown Russian armour and artillery within miles of Belarus’ border with Ukraine and Western officials have pointed out unusual military activity such as the construction of a pontoon bridge over the Prypyat river in the Chernobyl exclusion zone.

Russian officials have pledged that the troops will leave Belarus after the exercises conclude. But in contradictory remarks, Lukashenko on Thursday said that “if it makes sense to keep Russian troops here, we will keep them as long as necessary. I emphasise once again: this is our territory and this decision is up to us”.

Lukashenko criticised US deployments of troops to Poland and said he would not “ask permission”.

Leaving Russian troops in the country would be a controversial decision in Belarus. Many Belarusians, even supporters of Lukashenko, do not want to see further integration with Russia and would view a large Russian military presence as an occupation.

Lukashenko has resisted efforts to integrate his economy and politics with Russia under a Union State plan, but increasingly needs Russia’s financial and diplomatic support in his own standoff with the West.

The Russian troops in Belarus are seen as some of the most concerning to Western analysts because they have been sent thousands of miles from Russia’s eastern military district.

Thomas Bullock, Senior OSINT Analyst at Janes, a defence intelligence provider, said that the troops were among the Russian units that would have to withdraw in order for Russia to meaningfully decrease tensions.

“You want to see those long distance journeys being pulled back,” he told the Guardian.

Rochan Consulting, a military consultancy, has estimated that Russia has sent 50-70% of the Eastern military district’s combat potential to Belarus. Units include armour, artillery, speznaz special forces, engineering brigades, iskander ballistic missile battalions, SU-35 fighters, paratroopers, and anti-air systems.

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