While more than 100,000 Russian troops, tanks, artillery and missiles remain near Ukraine’s borders at a time of heightened tensions between the Kremlin and the West, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has warned of a large deployment in Belarus, too – one he suggested is seen as concerning by the Alliance.

He said at a meeting with President Andrzej Duda of Poland at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels on Monday: “These deployments are not justified, not transparent, and very close to NATO borders.”

Mr Stoltenberg, expressing his eagerness to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Eastern Europe, added: “Today, I reiterate my invitation to Russia to meet with NATO Allies in the NATO-Russia Council.

“We are ready to listen to their concerns, to discuss NATO-Russia relations, risk reduction and transparency, arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation, and other issues that affect our security.

“But NATO will not compromise on core principles. Our ability to protect and defend all Allies, and the right of each nation to choose its own path.”

Mr Stoltenberg’s remarks come as satellite images of US-based company Maxar Technologies published on Sunday show details of military maneuvres at the Belarus border with Ukraine.

This follows an announcement by Moscow and Minsk that they will hold joint exercises aimed at training to repel an attack on southern borders of their alliance from February 10 to 20.

Labelled Union Resolve 2022, the plan is believed to be the reason why military units armed with missiles, multiple rocket launchers and attack aircraft — all seen on Maxar’s imagery — have been deployed to Belarus.

According to the space technology company, the imagery of military hardware was taken near Yelsk, Rechitsa and Luninets on February 4. These are all locations within around 50 kilometres from the Ukrainian border.

The identified equipment is made up of 15 Su-25 ground attack aircraft, an S-400 air defence system, SS26 Iskander missiles and multiple rocket launchers.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, was last week pictured with the Belarusian defence minister and other military officials at a military facility in the west of Belarus as they reviewed live-fire exercises.

The relationship between Russia and Belarus went a step further in 2020 when the Kremlin helped Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko through huge anti-government protests.

Mr Shoigu has now said Moscow would be keen to help Minsk oppose “the West’s destructive line”.

The presence of Russian troops in Belarus has added to the West’s fears Mr Putin’s government might be preparing for an invasion of Ukraine.

Moscow, while denying any such intention and saying the exercises are defensive, is proving challenging to negotiate with as efforts by multiple countries — including the UK — to delude the Russia-Ukraine crisis are all ending at the same point: the Kremlin wants security guarantees.

Mr Putin’s team, in search of a promise from NATO it will never admit Ukraine as a member, claims it feels threatened by the strengthening ties of Kiev with the Alliance’s member nations.

This feeling is rooted in the countries’ fractured relations following Moscow’s seizure and annexation of Crimea in 2014.

NATO, meanwhile, promises to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty and insists that, although it has no intention to admit Ukraine anytime soon, providing such guarantees is a no-go for NATO.

The leaders also discussed the recent joint statement by Russia and China, in which both countries called on NATO to stop admitting new members.

In his meeting with Mr Duda, Mr Stoltenberg also discussed Russia’s and China’s recent joint statement expressing their common interests in their respective conflicts with the West.

The document, released by the Kremlin, read: “The parties oppose the further expansion of Nato, call on the North Atlantic alliance to abandon the ideologised approaches of the cold war, respect the sovereignty, security and interests of other countries, the diversity of their civilisational and cultural-historical patterns, and treat the peaceful development of other states objectively and fairly.”

The NATO boss called Mr Putin’s and Xi’s move “an attempt to deny sovereign nations the right to make their own choices, a right enshrined in key international documents”.

He added: “We must respect sovereign decisions, not return to an age of spheres of influence, where the big powers can tell others what they can or cannot do.”