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Ukraine and Russia Begin Military Drills as Diplomacy Continues

Moscow and Kyiv meet in Normandy format talks while their militaries conduct fresh exercises.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
A Ukrainian serviceman
A Ukrainian serviceman
A Ukrainian serviceman is seen in Pisky, Ukraine, on Feb. 9. Gaelle Girbes/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Ukraine and Russia hold military exercises as Normandy format talks resume, Indian state elections begin in Uttar Pradesh, and Libya chooses a new prime minister.

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Talks Resume Amid Military Drills

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Ukraine and Russia hold military exercises as Normandy format talks resume, Indian state elections begin in Uttar Pradesh, and Libya chooses a new prime minister.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Talks Resume Amid Military Drills

Displays of military might pair with diplomacy today as Ukraine and Russia undertake military exercises while Normandy format peace talks take place between the countries, alongside France and Germany.

Russia’s joint exercises in Belarus come amid a 30,000-strong troop buildup in the country—a force that Western officials worry could soon become a permanent presence, as FP colleagues Robbie Gramer and Amy Mackinnon reported on Tuesday.

On Monday, James Cleverly, the newly minted British minister of state for Europe, said “the scale and nature” of Russia’s troop buildup “cannot credibly be explained away as purely military exercises.”

The exercises are already concerning in the context of repeated Western assertions of an impending invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces, charges the Kremlin denies. But as Robert Lee, an expert on the Russian military and a doctoral candidate at Kings College London, told Foreign Policy, the specifics of the exercise are unprecedented: from the high number of Russian troops in Belarus to the advanced weaponry deployed and the unorthodox timing, seeing as Russia and Belarus already held large-scale military exercises, known as Zapad, back in September 2021.

“The fact they just did Zapad together, Russia and Belarus shouldn’t need a mass inspection exercise so soon after that. This is clearly nonstandard and very different,” Lee said.

Ukrainian forces will be on the move too, conducting military exercises at the same time as Russia and Belarus, where they are expected to hone the operation of equipment provided by NATO countries—including Turkish Bayraktar drones and U.S.-made Javelin missiles.

The fact that Ukraine’s forces are gearing up at the same time as Russias troops signals a shift from a previous position of wariness over whether its actions would provoke Moscow. Andrew Weiss, a Russia and Eurasia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, welcomed the shift as prudent preparation, given Kyiv’s position: “I think it seems sensible that after two or three months of denying that there’s an invasion force on their borders, the Ukrainians are doing the right thing,” he said.

While Russian troops, jets, and artillery get put through their paces in Belarus, diplomacy continues in Berlin. Following the successful revival of Normandy format talks among Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France two weeks ago in Paris, advisors will once again gather to discuss the implementation of the 2015 Minsk accords. Speaking on Wednesday, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova suggested the United States wanted to derail the agreements by entering revisions and criticized Kyiv for not taking them seriously.

Whether the talks prove fruitful or not, the fact that they remain in play is a positive sign. “There are very few effective channels with Moscow,” Weiss said. “So fostering these lines of communications, to me, seems inherently useful.”

Although German and French officials are part of today’s diplomacy, the appetite for both countries to defend Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion is weak. A new poll from the European Council on Foreign Relations found just 37 percent of Germans think their country should come to Ukraine’s defense, whereas a slightly higher number in France—43 percent—think the same.


What We’re Following Today

Europe’s diplomatic push. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is on the move today with talks planned with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki in Warsaw as well as a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss meets with her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow.

Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau begins a two-day visit to Ukraine while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz hosts Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins, and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda for talks in Berlin.

BJP faces UP test. Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, begins the first phase of state assembly elections today, with six more to follow over the coming weeks. Results are expected on March 10. Polls show Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) likely to retain its majority, an outcome that would make it the first time since 1985 that a party has won consecutive elections in the state.


Keep an Eye On

Canada’s truck protests. An ongoing blockade of roads and bridges in Canada “poses a risk” to automobile industry supply chains, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki warned on Wednesday, as a protest over Canadian COVID-19 measures has caused traffic to slow on a key bridge connecting the United States and Canada between Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit.

The traffic disruptions have already caused an Ontario-based assembly plant to cut shifts short for lack of just-in-time delivered parts while Toyota’s Ontario sites aren’t expected to produce any new vehicles for the rest of the week.

Libya’s succession turmoil. Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah escaped unharmed from an alleged assassination attempt early Thursday, according to a Reuters report. If confirmed, the attempt would complicate an already fractious leadership succession process, with Libya’s eastern-based parliament set to vote on a new prime minister to replace Dbeibah today. On Tuesday, Dbeibah said he would refuse to hand over power and would “not allow new transitional periods.”


FP Live From Kyiv

Foreign Policys national security and intelligence reporter Amy Mackinnon is in Kyiv, Ukraine, to explore whether the world has succeeded in preventing a war there—and what it would take to keep the peace. Today, at 11 a.m. ET, she joins FP editor in chief Ravi Agrawal and Andrea Kendall-Taylor, a former U.S. intelligence officer on Russian and Eurasian affairs now at the Center for a New American Security, to discuss the continuing crisis and take questions from the audience.


Odds and Ends

European leaders have embraced an apparent threat by Facebook parent company Meta to block access to Facebook and Instagram on the continent amid negotiations between Washington and Brussels over data processing privacy rules between the two jurisdictions.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Robert Habeck, Germany’s vice chancellor, took a sanguine approach to a prospective ban. “After I was hacked, I have lived without Facebook and Twitter for four years, and life has been fantastic.” He was joined on stage by his French colleague, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who added his opinion: “I can confirm that life would be very good without Facebook and that we would live very well without Facebook.”

The comments from the ministers came in response to Meta’s annual report, which said the company would “likely be unable to offer a number of our most significant products and services, including Facebook and Instagram, in Europe” if data agreements remained unreliable.

A statement from the company on Tuesday sought to clear up the matter: “Meta is not wanting or threatening to leave Europe and any reporting that implies we do is simply not true.” 

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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