East and West go toe-to-toe: Russian paratroopers are deployed to Belarus close to Poland border as ‘Britain sends soldiers to strengthen Polish defences’ after White House warned Putin could invade Ukraine ‘imminently’

  • Russia and Belarus are carrying out surprise joint paratrooper drills just 20 miles from Polish border today 
  • Belarus said troops will practice capturing bridges and destroying enemy patrols to test ‘combat readiness’ 
  • Meanwhile Polish defence minister said British engineers have arrived at the border to strengthen the defences, with all sides warning the crisis could spill over into an armed conflict 
  • Separately, the White House warned that Putin appears to be preparing for an invasion of eastern Ukraine 

Russia is carrying out snap military drills in Belarus just a few miles from the Polish border today, as fears grow that Vladimir Putin is preparing for an invasion in eastern Europe.

Russia’s defence ministry said the unannounced drill would involve paratroopers from both countries dropping at the Gozhsky range, just 20 miles from where migrants are gathered at the Polish border, where they will practice capturing bridges as well as hunting down and destroying enemy patrols. 

Belarus said the drill was in response to the ‘build-up of military activity’ at the Polish border, where 15,000 troops have been stationed to help hold back the migrants, while Russia said it was to test the ‘combat readiness’ of its troops. Russia has previously flown nuclear-capable bombers over Belarus as a show-of-strength.

At the same time, Polish defence minister Mariusz Błaszczak revealed British engineers have been deployed to help strengthen the border defences amid warnings from all sides that the crisis risks spilling over into a conflict. 

Separately, Washington warned its European allies that Putin could be preparing for an invasion of Ukraine’s eastern borders – hundreds of miles from where the migrant crisis is playing out – after satellites spotted troops, tanks and artillery pieces massing there.  

American intelligence sources have briefed their European counterparts of a possible Kremlin military operation in Ukraine’s east to annex territory similar to the 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula. 

The US has refused to share exactly what intel it has of an imminent attack, but the warning comes after satelite images revealed a build-up of tens of thousands of Russian troops, tanks and artillery pieces close to the border. 

Ukraine – which has been fighting a proxy-war against Russian-backed separatists in its eastern regions for years – has moved 8,500 more troops to the border in response.  

Fears are growing of an imminent conflict in eastern Europe as Russia and Belarus carry out snap military drills close to where a migrant crisis is playing out on Poland’s border, while Washington warns Putin is preparing to invade eastern Ukraine 

Russia and Belarus said paratroopers from both countries had been involved in joint drills in Gozhsky today, located just 20 miles from the Polish border where migrants are trying to cross

The Belarusian defence ministry said the troops practiced capturing bridges, hunting down and destroying targets, and defeating enemy patrols during the drill to ‘test combat readiness’

The surprise training mission came as it was revealed British military engineers are now at the border to strengthen the defences, amid warnings from all sides that the situation risks spilling over into armed conflict

The EU accuses Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko of forcing migrants to make illegal crossings into Poland in a cynical attempt to destabilise the bloc using vulnerable people as his weapon. 

On Thursday, Lukashenko himself warned of the risk of a conflict and accused armed groups in the Donbas region of Ukraine of trying to ship weapons to the migrants on the Polish border in order to spark fighting. 

‘They are Kurds, and the Kurds are militant,’ he said according to Polish newspaper Wyborcza. ‘When Poles beat them, cut them, torment them, etc., they become desperate. One rifle, one gun, and armed conflict is ready.’

Lukashenko has also threatened to cut off natural gas supplies running from Russia and through his country into Europe – though that threat was angrily slapped down by Moscow today.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said Lukashenko had not coordinated with Moscow before making the remark and added that Russian pledged to fulfil gas contracts are ‘beyond doubt’. 

It came after Lukashenko spoke out at a meeting of government officials on Thursday, musing: ‘We are heating Europe and they are threatening us… What if we cut off their natural gas? 

‘I would recommend the Polish and Lithuanian authorities to think before they speak up.’

Russia’s Yamal-Europe pipeline runs through Belarus and into Poland, representing about 20 per cent of the country’s total gas-carrying capacity into Europe.

The continent relies on natural gas for around a quarter of its energy needs, more than half of which is piped in from Russia – which sits on top of the world’s largest gas reserves.

Just weeks ago, European leaders were trying to negotiate with Russia to increase supplies as stockpiles of gas ran low due to surging demand as economies reopen post-Covid.

The EU accused Putin of throttling the flow of gas as a political bargaining tool to try and get a new gas pipeline – the multi-billion dollar Nord Stream 2 – opened. He denied the allegations.

Concerns about Russian troops on Ukraine’s border have been ongoing since at least April this year, when Putin moved around 100,000 soldiers, tanks and artillery pieces to the region without warning.

He later said the exercise was to test ‘military readiness’ and pulled some of the units back, but NATO warned that many of them had remained at the front even after the ‘exercise’ was over.

Russia then held more military drills around the Crimean peninsula and Ukraine’s eastern border over the summer, with yet more troops moved to the region.

The drills were closely watched by western powers with tensions almost spilling over into confrontation, including an episode in which Russian warships fired warning shots at a British vessel.

More troop and tank movements spotted via satellite in recent weeks spooked Washington even further, and prompted this week’s warning to European leaders about a confrontation. 

CIA Director Bill Burns even flew  to Moscow and have a rare one-on-one with President Vladimir Putin.

There he shared the US’s ‘serious’ concerns over the military buildup, sources told CNN. 

DailyMail.com reached out to the State Department for comment but was referred to comments made on Wednesday by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, when he echoed similar concerns in a press conference with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

‘We’re concerned by reports of unusual Russian military activity near Ukraine. We’re monitoring the region very closely, as we always do, we’ll continue to consult closely as well with allies and partners on this issue,’ Blinken told reporters.

‘And as we’ve made clear, any escalatory or aggressive actions would be of great concern to the United States. We continue to support de-escalation in the region and diplomatic resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.’

The report comes as fighting between Russian-backed groups and Ukrainian forces heats up. It began in 2014 after Russia illegally annexed the Crimean peninsula following a revolution that overthrew Ukraine’s former president who was widely seen as another mouthpiece of Putin’s. 

Ukraine’s Joint Forces Operation, a militarized force created in 2018 to defend the country in the ongoing conflict in the Donbas region, accused Russia of violating the ceasefire agreement five times over a 24-hour period on Monday. 

In a statement posted to Facebook the JFO accused Russia of ‘armed aggression,’ though the Kremlin has consistently denied involvement in the conflict. 

Tensions in Europe have been inflamed by a gas shortage, with Russian company Gazprom, the continent’s top energy supplier, having decreased its daily outflow in October in order to meet the needs of Putin’s domestic replenishment campaign. 

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Putin of intentionally engineering the gas crisis and urged western Europe to act swiftly with punishment.

But Gazprom increased its output to Europe earlier this week after Russia’ stockpile was deemed full. 

But the burgeoning refugee crisis on the border between Poland and Russia’s neighbor Belarus is threatening to further complicate the situation, which could grow more dire going into winter.

Much of Russia’s oil supply to Europe runs through Belarus and Poland. 

Over the last week western democracies have accused Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko of ‘weaponizing’ migrants from Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East by enabling them to fly to his country before seeking to break into the EU.

Devastating scenes have emerged from the region of desperate migrants getting brutal treatment from soldiers on both sides. Some even froze to death in the harsh Eastern European climate this time of year.

In response to threats of expanded sanctions, Lukashenko threatened to shut down the oil supply coming in from Russia to the rest of Europe.

The Biden administration is reportedly warning European allies of the possibility of an imminent attack by Russia on Ukraine, though Russia denied the accusations

Belarus denies engineering the crisis and has warned that armed groups in Ukraine are trying to give weapons to the migrants to spark a conflict (pictured, Belarusian troops marshal thousands of migrants near the border)

Migrants gather for getting humanitarian aid spread by Belarusian militaries at the camp at the Belarus-Polish border on November 11. Belarus’s strongman dictator threatened to choke off Europe’s gas supply from Russia if the west follows through on its promise of sanctions over the growing refugee crisis in the region

Russia has also been accused of helping engineer the crisis, which the West has called a ‘hybrid attack’

‘I would recommend the leadership of Poland, Lithuanians and other empty-headed people to think before speaking,’ he said. 

Among the countries vowing sanctions over the conflict are NATO and EU member states, as well as the US. 

Russia has also been accused of escalating the crisis, and the EU is reportedly in talks to target national airline Aeroflot as part of a new sanctions package.

The Kremlin said on Thursday that Russia had nothing to do with the migrant crisis on the Belarus-Poland border and rejected the suggestion as ‘crazy.’

It instead blamed the EU itself, claiming the international body was trying to ‘strangle’ Belarus. 

However, two supersonic Tu-22M3 nuclear bombers were seen performing ‘tasks of combat alert for air defense’ in support of the Belarus leader, the Russian defense ministry said in response to the rising tensions on the border.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a joint news conference with his Belarusian counterpart Vladimir Makei that he hoped responsible Europeans would ‘not allow themselves to be drawn into a spiral that is fairly dangerous’. 

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