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MOSCOW: Russia and Belarus launched joint military drills Thursday that heightened tensions and added urgency to diplomatic efforts by NATO leaders to avert a feared invasion of Ukraine.

NATO said Russia’s deployment of troops and missiles represented a “dangerous moment” for European security, with fears building for weeks that Moscow was positioning more than 100,000 troops around Ukraine in preparation for an all-out assault.

Western leaders have been shuttling to Moscow for days in an effort to deflate tensions, giving Russia a chance to air its grievances about NATO’s expansion into eastern Europe and former Soviet states.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss took a tough message to Moscow on Thursday, accusing Russia of adopting a “threatening posture” and urging Moscow to withdraw its forces to prove it had no intention to invade Ukraine.

Kyiv denounced the war games — set to run until February 20 — as “psychological pressure” while French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called the exercises “a very violent gesture”.

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