Russia launches massive military drills near Ukraine's borders

2016-09-06 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio)  Moscow has launched large-scale military drills on Ukraine's eastern border and around Ukraine’s Russia-annexed Crimean Peninsula, despite international concerns it could lead to a further escalation of tensions between the two neighbors. 

Listen to Stefan Bos' report:

Russia's Defence Ministry said some 12,500 servicemen are taking part in drills across its southern military region. It added that the Russian Navy in the Black Sea and Caspian Sea are involved in the exercises and that planes are also being used.

The Ministry explained that the six-day exercises would "test the army's ability to plan, prepare, and carry out military actions."

These latest military movements come just shortly after Russia last month conducted a large-scale snap drill, putting its troops on full combat readiness in military districts bordering Ukraine and the Baltic states.

It has underscored mounting tensions between Russia and Ukraine. Moscow has accused Kiev in recent weeks of attempting armed incursions into Crimea, which Russia-annexed in 2014. Kiev denies the allegations and is angry about Russian military drills.

Kiev angry

And Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko warned that Ukraine wants Crimea back as well as areas in eastern Ukraine that are now controlled by pro-Russian separatists. "The most important and difficult goal for us is to make our flag rise again over Donetsk, Luhansk, Simferopol and Sevastopol," he said.

As part of that effort, Kiev already received military support. On Monday Lithuania confirmed it had delivered 150 tons of Soviet-era ammunition, mainly AK-47 cartridges from its old munitions stocks to Ukraine. 

Poroshenko spoke during the annual flag-raising ceremony in Kiev at a time when the country remembered its 25th anniversary of independence from what was the Soviet Union. 

He stood alongside a daughter of Ukrainian politician Volodymyr Rybak who was attacked by a pro-Russian mob and apparently tortured and murdered by masked militia.

The apparent murder of Rybak and a second man in 2014 prompted the European Union to urge Russia to use its influence to stop kidnappings and killings in mainly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.

But more than two years later Kiev claims Moscow just wants to further destabilize Ukraine with weapons and troops and make the nation part of what it calls "the Russian empire".

The Kremlin denies the charges.

Yet with thousands of Russian troops now inside Crimea and elsewhere near Ukraine's borders, it has become clear that the standoff between Kiev and Moscow is far from over. That has raised Western concerns about a possible wider military confrontation between the two neighbors.

(from Vatican Radio)