Russia puts thousands of troops on high alert as part of massive drill in southwest
by Associated Press
MOSCOWFeb 08, 2016 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Associated Press
Feb 08, 2016 12:00 am
Russia is getting ready for a massive military show of force in its southwest, where it borders Ukraine with its east occupied by pro-Russian separatists, and Turkey, whose southern border is increasingly threatened by Russian military buildup in Syria
President Vladimir Putin has scrambled thousands of troops and hundreds of warplanes across southwestern Russia for large-scale military drills intended to test the troops' readiness amid continuing tensions with the West, especially with its southern neighbors Ukraine and Turkey.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that military units were put on combat alert early Monday, marking the launch of the exercise that involves troops of the Southern Military District.
The district includes troops stationed in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, as well as forces in the North Caucasus and southwestern regions near the border with Ukraine.
Shoigu said the maneuvers will also engage airborne troops and military transport aviation, as well as the navy. He noted that the drills are intended to check the troops' ability to respond to extremist threats and other challenges.
According to Shoigu, who spoke at a meeting with the top military brass, the war games would include redeployment of air force units to advance air bases and bombing runs at shooting ranges. The maneuvers will test the troops' mobility, with some being deployed to areas up to 3,000 kilometers (1,860 miles) away, the military said.
Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said in a statement that up to 8,500 troops, 900 ground weapons, 200 warplanes and about 50 warships will be involved in the drills.
The exercises are the latest in a series of major drills intended to strengthen the military's readiness. They have continued despite the nation's economic downturn.
Even though a drop in global oil prices has drained the government's coffers and helped drive the economy into recessions, the Kremlin has continued to spend big on the military, funding the purchase of hundreds of new aircraft, tanks and missiles.
Russia has demonstrated its resurgent military might with its air campaign in Syria, which helped Bashar Assad's military win a series of victories in recent weeks. The military used the Syrian operation to test new types of weapons in actual combat for the first time, including long-range air- and sea-launched cruise missiles.
The air blitz in Syria has badly strained Russia's relations with Turkey, which shot down a Russian Su-24 bomber breaching its airspace at the border with Syria on November 24. The latest drills could be part of muscle flexing amid the tensions with Ankara.
They also come at a time when a peace deal intended to end fighting between Ukrainian government troops and Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine appears to be in jeopardy amid increasingly frequent clashes in recent weeks.