Putin readies 150,000 Russian troops for war games, raises concerns for Ukraine
By End the Lie
Russian President Vladimir Putin has put 150,000 troops on alert for previously unannounced war games near Ukraine on Wednesday, a move which Reuters called “the Kremlin’s boldest gesture yet.”
While news reports explicitly link the exercise with the events in Ukraine, Moscow has denied that the drill is related, according to Reuters.
The move comes as tensions are on the rise in the Ukrainian region of Crimea, where pro-Russian demonstrators scuffled with rival protesters on Wednesday, according to CNN.
One man died around the time of the protests in front of the Crimean parliament building in the city of Simferopol, although the Crimean Ministry of Health said it was due to a heart attack. Seven others sought medical attention after the clashes.
Ethnic Russians, who make up the majority in the Crimea region, are seeking independence and have called on the Kremlin to intervene. The region was part of Russian territory until it was handed over to the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine in 1954.
The Russian government is “carefully watching what is happening in Crimea” and taking “measures to guarantee the safety of facilities, infrastructure and arsenals of the Black Sea Fleet,” according to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, quoted by state news agency RIA Novosti.
American state-run news agency Voice of America reported that there are concerns of an East-West split in Ukraine. Russia’s Foreign Ministry has warned that current developments could lead to “an even bigger split in Ukrainian society.”
Interim President Oleksandr Turchynov warned of “very dangerous signs of separatism” in several parts of the country while speaking in parliament on Tuesday.
Shoigu said that the exercise was needed to test the military’s readiness to respond to a “crisis situation,” including a chemical or biological terrorist attack, according to The New York Times.
While Russia has never linked the exercise with anything going on in Ukraine, the Times reports that “the geopolitical message of the snap drill was unmistakable.”
However, RIA Novosti reported that Russia held at least six snap drills last year.
Moscow has said that they will not interfere in Ukraine’s political developments and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it is “dangerous and counterproductive” to force a choice between Europe and Russia.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed similar sentiments on Tuesday.
“This is not a zero-sum game, it is not a West versus East, it should not be,” Kerry said. “It is not a Russia or the United States or other choices, this is about the people of Ukraine and Ukrainians making their choice about their future and we want to work with Russia, with other countries, with everybody available, to make sure this is peaceful from this day forward because obviously, the terrible violence that took place in the Maidan [Independence Square] was a shock to everybody in the world.”
At the time of publication, Russia has still not recognized the new political powers in the Ukrainian parliament.
On Monday, Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev said the events in Ukraine posed “a real threat to our interests and to our citizens’ lives and health.”
Kerry has warned Russia to be “very careful” about their military moves. He said he did not want the U.S. and Russia to get into an “old cold war confrontation” over Ukraine.
He also called on Moscow to “keep its word” about maintain the unity of Ukraine, according to the Telegraph. The White House also urged “outside actors” to respect Ukrainian sovereignty.
UPDATE: The Globe and Mail reports that “Russian-backed fighters moved dozens of kilometres outside their base in this Black Sea port, establishing a checkpoint on the main road connecting Sevastopol to the regional capital.”
The news outlet reported that a dozen men wearing fatigues, supported by an armored personnel carrier, erected a checkpoint under a Russian flag.
They also report that the men told journalists they were local volunteers.
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