The Ukraine conflict is moving fast. Here’s what to watch for

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See latest images from Russia and Ukraine as tensions mount
03:29 - Source: CNN
Moscow and Kyiv CNN  — 

Tensions in Ukraine are escalating. The country’s eastern Donbas region – where fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces have simmered since 2015 – experienced its worst shelling in years this week.

And diplomatic efforts to defuse tensions have, so far, failed to reach a conclusion.

As tensions continue to spike, here’s some key moments to watch in the ongoing Ukraine crisis.

Ongoing wargames and nuclear drills

Over the past week, Russian President Vladimir Putin has focused international attention onto a series of military drills that have tested Russia’s conventional military power. Russia’s Ministry of Defense has released flashy footage of live-fire exercises in neighboring Belarus involving tanks, artillery and fighter aircraft, and the wargames have showcased Russia’s air defenses and its navy.

On Saturday, Russia is set to test its strategic deterrent: its nuclear forces. The Kremlin announced Friday that Putin is “likely to be in the situation center” during military drills on Saturday, where ballistic and cruise missiles will be launched. Three decades after the end of the Cold War, both Russia and the United States have nuclear arsenals on “hair trigger” alert – that is, nuclear warheads married up to their delivery systems and ready for launch at a moment’s notice.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov noted that such training exercises are “quite regular,” and would involve appropriate international notifications. That’s true, up to a point: These readiness exercises are happening against the background of international tensions over Ukraine that could actualize into a major war.