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Military drills between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian ally Alexander Lukashenko have been extended.

Russia: One reason for keeping an estimated 30,000 Russian troops in Belarus, according to a statement, is the “deterioration of the situation” in east Ukraine. Fears that Russia is planning an invasion of Ukraine, which shares a long border with Belarus, will grow as a result of this move.

Moscow has been accused by Western leaders of looking for a pretext to send troops in. Russia has denied that it is planning an invasion of its neighbor. The extension of military exercises, according to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, shows the world is on the verge of war.

Russia keeps troops in Belarus amidst Ukraine crisis.
Russia keeps troops in Belarus amidst Ukraine crisis.

The announcement, according to the BBC’s Eastern Europe correspondent Sarah Rainsford, is yet another strong signal from Russia that it is not willing to back down in its standoff with Western countries over Ukraine. More explosions in the east Ukrainian conflict zone continued through the night and into Sunday, coinciding with the announcement.

Detonations were heard in the separatist-held city of Donetsk, and both sides claimed to have been hit by heavy shelling. On Sunday morning, as explosions rang out in Donetsk, Russian-backed rebels in Luhansk accused government forces of crossing the front line to launch an attack that killed two civilians. Despite the lack of proof, Russian investigators launched an investigation.

Russia keeps troops in Belarus amidst Ukraine crisis.

On Sunday, both the rebels and the government accused each other of breaking the ceasefire dozens of times. On Saturday, two Ukrainian soldiers were killed, as international monitors reported a sharp increase in ceasefire violations this week. Thousands of civilians are being evacuated into Russia from separatist territories, while men of fighting age are being drafted into the conflict.

An evacuee named Tatyana told the Reuters news agency as she prepared to leave Donetsk for Russia by bus with her four-year-old daughter: “It’s quite terrifying. I’ve brought everything I could.”

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