Russia on Sunday extended military drills near Ukraine’s northern borders as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he supports an immediate ceasefire in the eastern portion of the country.
The exercises, originally set to end Sunday, brought a sizable contingent of Russian forces to neighboring Belarus, which borders Ukraine to the north. The presence of the Russian troops raised concern that they could be used to sweep down on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.
The extension of the drills was announced by Belarus’s defense minister, Gen. Viktor Khrenin, on social media.
“The preliminary results of the completed joint operational exercise ‘Allied Resolve-2022,’ conducted as part of a comprehensive check of the response forces of the Union State, have concluded,” he said on Telegram.
“In connection with the increase in military activity near the external borders of the Union State [Russia and Belarus] and the aggravation of the situation in the Donbas, the Presidents of the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation decided to continue checking the response forces of the Union State,” his statement added.
Also on Sunday, shelling was reported in eastern Ukraine, according to Ukrainian officials. On Saturday, Ukraine reported that two soldiers were killed by separatists’ shelling. Separatist leaders, however, accused Ukraine of attacking their forces over the weekend.
Ukraine’s military on Sunday confirmed to The Associated Press that it shut down a key checkpoint leading to the Donbas area after it came under repeated shelling.
In a Twitter post on Sunday morning, Zelensky called on the eastern rebels and Ukraine’s forces to observe a ceasefire.
“We stand for intensifying the peace process. We support the immediate convening of the TCG and the immediate introduction of a regime of silence,” the Ukrainian president wrote.
Meanwhile, Western officials again sounded the alarm that Moscow is readying an invasion of Ukraine as more than 150,000 troops are reportedly stationed near the Ukrainian border. Last week, top White House officials said Russia would invade Ukraine within a few days—a prediction that didn’t materialize.