Russian President Vladimir Putin announced large-scale snap military exercises on land and in the Black and Caspian seas, increasing worries in Ukraine and other Western neighbors about Moscow's intentions.
The exercises, which began early on August 25, put thousands of troops on combat alert and followed weeks of increasing tension along Ukraine’s eastern borders and in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Large-scale movements of military weaponry and equipment have been reported in Crimea and border crossings into mainland Ukraine were blocked briefly earlier this month after Russia said two security personnel had been killed during an alleged incident with a group of Ukrainian saboteurs. Kyiv called the Russian claims preposterous.
Russia is also scheduled to hold previously announced war games in southern regions called Kavkaz 2016, which will included thousands of personnel and hundreds of heavy weapons and other equipment.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that troops have been put on combat alert as part of the drills, which were taking place in military districts that encompass Crimea and Russian regions bordering Ukraine and regions bordering the three Baltic nations, all of which are NATO members.
The ministry said the drills will last until the end of the month and involve a variety of units, from paratroopers to Northern Fleet naval ships. It also said foreign military attaches posted in Moscow had been notified of the exercises after they began.
Like NATO and many countries, Russia regularly holds exercises to test its armed forces' capabilities. But some analysts say Moscow is increasingly using unannounced drills as a means to threaten neighbors or to clandestinely position equipment or personnel for future operations.
In March 2014, following the violent Kyiv street protests that drove the Russian-allied president from power, Moscow announced snap military drills in its southern and western military districts. In the weeks that followed, masked and armed camouflaged soldiers appeared suddenly around Crimea and the peninsula was ultimately annexed by Moscow.
The drills that began on August 25 caused alarm in neighboring Poland, also a NATO member, where Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz called an urgent briefing of military intelligence and other units including Operational Command, which oversees Poland’s air defenses.
With reporting by AP