The exercises, which will involve 140 ships and nearly 10,000 troops in total, represent the biggest military manoeuvre since 1991, according to European news outlet Heraldo. The ships have begun crossing the Strait of Gibraltar in preparation for the drills. But Russia has denied that it is a prelude to an invasion of Ukraine.
In the most recent development, three more Russian ships from Mr Putin’s Northern Fleet arrived in the Mediterranean Sea earlier today.
Battleship “Marshal Ustinov”, frigate “Admiral Kasatov” and destroyer “Vice-Admiral Kulakov” crossed the Strait of Gibraltar a few hours ago, the Russian Navy said in a statement.
On February 4, the Russian Navy also reported that six landing ships from the Northern and Baltic fleets had docked in the Syrian port of Tartus, which hosts a Russian naval base.
The ships will take part in naval exercises led by Russian Nacy Chief of Staff Nikolai Yevmov.
Separate manoeuvres will also be conducted in the Mediterranean, the North and Okhotsk Seas, the Pacific Ocean and the north-eastern part of the Atlantic.
Moscow has said that the aim of the manoeuvres is “the defence of Russian national interests in the seas” and also to “the fight against military threats” to the country.
But it denies that the recent military exercises represent “an escalation” of the stand-off over Ukraine.
This comes as Russia has built up 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine, demanding that the country be barred from joining NATO.
A total of 8,500 US troops have also been put on heightened alert for possible deployment to eastern Europe, the Pentagon has said.
Meanwhile, Mr Putin has accused the West of deliberately trying to lure Russia into war and ignoring Russia’s security concerns over Ukraine.
He said: “Ukraine itself is just an instrument to achieve this goal.
“This can be done in different ways, by drawing us into some kind of armed conflict and, with the help of their allies in Europe, forcing the introduction against us of those harsh sanctions they are talking about now in the U.S.”
Writing in The Times about the West’s planned response to the crisis, Mr Johnson said: “If he launches another invasion, he will force the West to bring about much of what he seeks to prevent.”
He added: “We are considering deploying RAF Typhoon fighters and Royal Navy warships to protect southeastern Europe.
“And HMS Prince of Wales, our newest aircraft carrier, is now the command ship of NATO’s Maritime High Readiness Force.”
UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will travel to Moscow on Thursday for meetings with her Russian counterpart.
Additional reporting by Maria Ortega.