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Russia starts drills to rehearse protecting key Arctic lane

China Daily | Updated: 2022-01-27 09:54

The Marshal Ustinov guided missile cruiser (bottom) joins a naval exercise held by the Russian Northern Fleet in the Barents Sea on Jan 25, 2022. [Photo/IC]

MOSCOW-Russian warships entered the Barents Sea on Wednesday to rehearse protecting a major shipping lane in the Arctic, its Northern Fleet said on Wednesday, as Moscow stages sweeping military exercises involving all of its fleets.

The moves are being closely watched by the West, especially the United States, at a time when a troop buildup near its border with Ukraine has sparked fears of a conflict.

Moscow has denied that it plans to attack Ukraine, with the Kremlin saying the current escalation in tensions was caused by the US and its NATO allies, which have launched a propaganda campaign full of lies against Russia. It is demanding security guarantees from the West, including a promise by NATO never to admit Ukraine.

According to NATO officials, the alliance is close to completing its written proposals for Moscow after Russia issued a raft of security guarantees and should deliver them this week, Agence France-Presse reported on Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, the Ukrainian ambassador to Japan, Sergiy Korsunsky, said Kiev is committed to seeking a diplomatic solution to the tension with Moscow, adding that he saw little chance of all-out war, although there might be smaller conflicts.

"I believe that full-scale war is very, very, very difficult to expect, but we may see more localized conflict," Korsunsky said in Tokyo.

Moscow said last week it would stage a series of drills involving all its fleets in the seas directly adjacent to Russia. The exercises will also include maneuvers in the Mediterranean, the North Sea, the Sea of Okhotsk, the northeast Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific.

Wednesday's drills in the Arctic, which involve 30 warships, 20 aircraft and 1,200 personnel, are designed to assess troops' combat readiness in the Arctic and their ability to protect the Northern Sea Route.

The exercises will see troops rehearse repelling military threats and help "ensure the security of sea lanes and Russia's areas of maritime economic activity in the northern seas in the event of a crisis", the Northern Fleet said.

Russia has invested heavily in infrastructure to develop the Northern Sea Route and hopes it will become a major shipping lane as the Arctic warms at a faster rate than the rest of the world. Russia plans to begin year-round shipping via the Northern Sea Route in 2022 or 2023.

Rare sanctions threat

US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday he would consider personal sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin if Moscow attacks Kiev.

The rare sanctions threat came as NATO places forces on standby and reinforces Eastern Europe with more ships and fighter jets.

Following multiple rounds of US-Russia talks over Ukraine that failed to reach a breakthrough, Biden, who has long warned Moscow of economic consequences, upped the ante on Tuesday by saying Putin could personally face sanctions.

If Russia were to move into Ukraine with the estimated 100,000 soldiers it has massed near the border, Biden said it would be the "largest invasion since World War II "and would "change the world".

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said such a move would be "destructive" for relations.

Meanwhile, US and European officials are coordinating with natural gas suppliers around the globe to cushion the impact if Russia were to cut off energy supplies in the conflict over Ukraine, The Associated Press reported, citing Biden administration officials.

However, some big companies are pushing the White House and lawmakers to be cautious.

A trade group representing Chevron, General Electric and other big US corporations that do business in Russia is asking the White House to consider allowing companies to fulfill commitments and to weigh exempting products as it crafts any sanctions. At the same time, big energy companies are pushing Congress to limit their scope and time frame, Reuters reported.

Agencies - Xinhua

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