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Russia launches hypersonic missiles in nuclear drills as ‘show of force’ amid Ukrainian tensions

Russia has struck sea and land targets with ballistic and cruise missiles in strategic nuclear exercises amid rising tensions with Ukraine.

The annual drills included the launch of Kinzhal and Tsirkon hypersonic missiles and a number of other weapons on Saturday, the Kremlin said in a statement.

The nuclear drills were overseen by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko.

The Ukrainian army said on Saturday that mercenaries had arrived in eastern Ukraine at the hands of separatists to organize provocations in collaboration with Russian special services.

“The purpose of these provocations will, of course, be to accuse Ukraine of further escalation,” the military said in a statement.

Ukraine has accused Russia of planning provocations that could lead to civilian casualties in eastern Ukraine in order to give Moscow a pretext to attack its neighbor.

Tanks and armored vehicles move during the Union Courage-2022 Russia-Belarus military exercises at the Obuz-Lesnovsky training ground in Belarus, February 19, 2022

(AP)

Russia denies planning to attack Ukraine.

Local authorities in southwestern Russia also reported on Saturday that a shell hit a village house near the Ukrainian border, damaging its roof but injuring no one, according to the TASS news agency.

Ukraine has denied two earlier reports that its shells landed in Russian territory near the border as fake news, saying Ukrainian government forces were not firing and had no interest in escalating already high tensions.

Russian and Belarusian servicemen practice detecting, blocking and destroying illegal armed formations of a fake enemy during a joint operational exercise of the armed forces of Belarus and Russia on a firing range in the Brest region in Belarus, February 19, 2022

(Russian Defense Ministry/EPA)

Russia has stationed around 130,000 troops along its border with Ukraine this winter, raising suspicions that an invasion is imminent.

Western powers have consistently warned the Kremlin against aggression, insisting there will be retaliation if it attacks its neighbour.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin assured the three Baltic countries on Saturday that they would not be alone in the face of Russia’s security threats, although he refrained from promising a permanent deployment of US troops in the former Soviet republics.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said an invasion of Ukraine appeared to be “in motion” but it “must logically” still be possible to prevent a war.

Asked if he agreed with the US assessment that the Russian leader had decided to attack the capital Kiev, Mr Johnson told broadcasters at the Munich security conference: ” I think things are definitely on the move, but the question is whether this can all be removed, and whether the President of Russia is still able to cancel this operation.

“I think that possibility must logically still exist, and so I think it’s absolutely vital that we have a path of dialogue, of reason.”

Additional reports by agencies


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