puts troops in western Russia on alert in drill
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[February 26, 2014]
MOSCOW (Reuters) - President
Vladimir Putin ordered an urgent drill to test the combat readiness of
the armed forces across western Russia on Wednesday, news agencies
reported, flexing Moscow's military muscle amid tension with the West
"In accordance with an order from the president of the Russian
Federation, forces of the Western Military District were put on
alert at 1400 (0500 ET) today," Interfax quoted Defence Minister
Sergei Shoigu as saying.
Putin has ordered several such surprise drills in various parts of
Russia since he returned to the presidency in 2012, saying the
military must be kept on its toes, but the geopolitical overtones
could hardly have been clearer this time.
The western district borders Ukraine, which lies between NATO
nations and Russia. Shoigu said the drill would be conducted in two
stages, ending on March 3, and also involved some forces in central
Putin has made no public comment on Ukraine since President Viktor
Yanukovich was driven from power over the weekend after months of
political turmoil sparked by his decision to spurn deals with the
European Union and improve ties with Russia.
The United States and European nations have warned Russia against
military intervention in Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that
Putin has called a "brother nation" and wants to be part of a
Eurasian Union he is building in the region.
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Russian officials have said Moscow will not interfere in Ukraine,
while accusing the West of doing so, and Interfax cited the speaker
of the upper parliament house, Valentina Matviyenko, as saying on
Wednesday it would not use force.
But Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Monday that Russia's
interests and its citizens in Ukraine were under threat, language
reminiscent of statements justifying Russia's invasion of Georgia in
2008, when he was president.
(Writing by Steve Gutterman, editing by Elizabeth Piper)
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