Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday ordered military forces in the country’s east to carry out a major exercise to test their preparedness, Associated Press reports.
This is a second major drill of combat readiness since June when the conflict in eastern Ukraine was already raging. That drill in the Volga region and the Urals involved 65,000 troops. In May, Russia and China held a joint naval exercise in the East China Sea.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on state television on Thursday that the “combat alert” in the eastern military district, which encompasses eastern-most territories including those bordering on China and Japan, was issued at 10 a.m. Moscow time, or 0600 GMT.
Russia news agencies later quoted Shoigu as saying that the seven-day drill will test the defense of Russia’s sea border. As part of the exercise Russia’s Pacific fleet will repel the enemy’s naval attack.
Putin on Wednesday accused the West of using the Ukraine crisis to reinvigorate NATO, and said Moscow will ponder a response to the alliance’s decision to create a rapid-reaction “spearhead” force to protect Eastern Europe.
The snap checks Russia’s far east were also meant to test the ability of local branches of the trade, communications and transportation ministries to work during wartime conditions, the news reports said.
Russia has been trying to strengthen ties with Asia, and particularly with China, during the crisis over Ukraine. Japan has joined its European and U.S. allies in imposing sanctions on Russia over the crisis, Reuters says.
Along with a surprise inspection of the Eastern Military District’s forces, Vladimir Putin has instructed the Defense Ministry and the Main Directorate for Special Programs to check the readiness of a number of federal ministries, other agencies, and regional administrations in the district to perform their duties in wartime.
The West has repeatedly accused Putin of using some of the manoeuvres to boost Russia’s troop presence along its border with Ukraine.
At the same time, Ukraine’s Information Resistance group reports that Russian-led militants are preparing armed provocations to disrupt the ceasefire regime in Donbas.