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Russia Holds Major Drills Amid Tensions04/22 06:11


   MOSCOW (AP) -- The Russian military on Thursday conducted massive drills in 
Crimea involving dozens of navy ships, hundreds of warplanes and thousands of 
troops in a show of force amid tensions with Ukraine.

   The maneuvers were described as the largest since Russia annexed the Black 
Sea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and threw its weight behind separatist 
insurgents in eastern Ukraine.

   The exercise comes amid increasing violations of a cease-fire in Ukraine's 
east and a massive Russian troops buildup on the border with Ukraine that 
raised Western concerns.

   The Russian Defense Ministry said the Crimean maneuvers involve more than 60 
ships, over 10,000 troops, around 200 aircraft and about 1,200 military 

   The exercise featured the landing of more than 2,000 paratroopers and 60 
military vehicles on Thursday. Fighter jets covered the airborne operation.

   Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu flew in a helicopter over the Opuk 
firing range in Crimea to oversee the exercise.

   Last week, Russia has announced that it would close broad areas of the Black 
Sea near Crimea to foreign navy ships and state vessels until November, a move 
that drew Ukrainian protests and raised Western concerns. Russia also announced 
restrictions on flights near Crimea this week, arguing that they fully conform 
with the international law.

   Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba warned Tuesday that the Russian 
buildup across the border is continuing and is "expected to reach a combined 
force of over 120,000 troops" in about a week and urged the West to beef up 
sanctions against Moscow.

   Moscow has rejected Ukrainian and Western concerns about the buildup, 
arguing that it's free to deploy its forces anywhere on the Russian territory 
and charging that they don't threaten anyone. But at the same time, the Kremlin 
sternly warned Ukrainian authorities against trying to use force to retake 
control of the rebel east, where seven years of fighting have killed more than 
14,000, saying that Russia could be forced to intervene to protect civilians in 
the region.

   Amid the tensions, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday 
signed a law allowing the call-up of reservists for military service without 
announcing a mobilization. The new law will allow to quickly equip the military 
with reservists, "significantly increasing their combat effectiveness during 
military aggression," Zelenskyy's office said in a statement.

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