Putin orders Russian combat readiness test

KIEV, Ukraine (USA TODAY) - Ukrainians did not appear overly worried Wednesday about an order by Russian President Vladimir Putin for Russian troops to undergo combat readiness drills in areas near the Ukraine border.

Putin backed a Ukraine regime that was thrown out after weeks of protests in the capital of Kiev and has warned Ukraine and the West that Russia is deeply concerned about events.

Some in the Ukraine have openly worried about Russian military intervention similar to an invasion Putin ordered into the republic of Georgia in 2008 when the government there tried to crack down on Russian-speaking separatists.

While many in Kiev on Wednesday said they weren't worried about Russia they added that they weren't too thrilled with the West either and its lack of support for their struggle under what they said was a repressive regime that looted the country's treasury.

"People made this revolution when they realized they would get no help from Europe and the U.S. last December," said Roman Bondarchuk, who took part in the demonstrations in Kiev. "That was when they realized that everyone could be a hero."

On Wednesday, Putin made a point of ordering military forces deployed in the western part of the country to test their "battle readiness," just days after the West has warned him not to intervene in Ukraine.

"Supreme Commander and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday has ordered the Defense Ministry to conduct a comprehensive review of combat readiness of troops and forces in the Western and Central ministry districts… in case of a crisis situation and threatens the security of Russia," Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced as reported by Interfax Russian news agency.

The state-run TV network RT said the drill was proposed by Putin in September to follow similar massive exercises in 2013. It reports that the drill included troops dealing with mock security and terrorist threats.

Some Ukrainians felt that the order was a display intended to reassure Russia-speakers in the east and south parts of Ukraine.

Many Ukrainians in those areas are dismayed at the pro-Western interim leadership that has taken charge of Ukraine since the ouster Satyurday of pro-Russian ex-president Viktor Yanukovych.

The turmoil in Ukraine broke out following months of protests that began in November after Yanukovych dismissed a trade deal with the European Union in favor of closer trade relations with Russia. The protests left 82 dead.

On Wednesday, demonstrations broke out in the south against the new leadership as well as in support of it. Some Ukrainians in extremely pro-Russian cities such as Sevastopol, where Moscow has a fleet of ships on the Black Sea, have demanded that they be allowed to secede to Russia.

Last year, Russia held at least six combat readiness checks of the armed forces, the state-run RIA Novosti news agency reports. The agency said that a surprise drill in July was the largest in the post-Soviet era and involved some 160,000 servicemen, about 1,000 tanks and armored vehicles, 130 aircraft and 70 warships from the far-eastern and central military districts.

According to the defense minister, the drill, which began at 2 p.m. Moscow time, will be held through March 3 in two stages.

The second stage involves an "opposing-force exercise" with the participation of Russia's northern and Baltic fleet and bomb strike drills, the Russian TV news outlet reports.

The Russian Interfax news agency reports that the readiness checks would also involve "aerospace, airborne troops, long-range and military transport aviation."


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