Russian military forces have launched large-scale military drills around the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.
The Russian Defence ministry said on Monday that 12,500 servicemen are taking part in the drills across its southern military region, which encompasses the Russia’s North Caucasus and the annexed Crimea region.
The ministry statement read: “The exercise includes around 12,500 servicemen, aviation, military equipment and ships”
Press TV reports:
The Russian Navy in the Black Sea and Caspian Sea are participating in the drills and that planes also are being used in the exercises, the statement added.
The six-day strategic military drills dubbed ‘Kavkaz 2016’ will test the army’s ability to “plan, prepare and carry out military actions.”
Russia’s military forces last month staged massive snap military drills in districts close to the border with Ukraine and the Baltic states, putting ground troopers as well as airmen and marines on full combat readiness for possible future operations.
Russia has also recently beefed up its military might in Crimea by delivering its most advanced air defense system, the S-400, to the peninsula.
Tensions between Moscow and Kiev have flared in recent weeks after Russia’s Federal Security Service said that it had thwarted an incursion by the Ukrainian military into Crimea, but two Russians were killed in the incident.
Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed Ukraine for “practicing terror” and vowed to retaliate the deaths.
Ukrainian officials, however, denied the allegations and accused Russia of creating an excuse for further “intervention.”
People in Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea voted in a referendum to join the Russian Federation in March 2014. The move angered the West and the Ukrainian government, which branded it as Moscow’s annexation of the territory.
The Crimea referendum came almost at the same as the Ukrainian government engaged in a crackdown on the Russian-speaking people in the eastern Donbass region, who later took up arms to defend themselves.
Moreover, relations between Russia on one side and NATO and the US on the other have witnessed heightened tensions over a crisis in Ukraine.
While the Kiev government and its Western allies keep accusing Moscow of having a hand in the militancy in eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin strongly rejects the claims.
Russia has also criticized NATO’s expansion policy to include countries in the Western Balkan region, saying the move directly harms Russia’s strategic interests in the Balkans.