Russia Puts Military in Baltics, South on Full Alert in Drills

Russian bomber aircraft are being sent to Crimea while forces in the Baltics and southern regions have been put on full alert in military exercises ordered by President Vladimir Putin.

The TU-22M3 strategic bombers are moving to Crimea as part of the snap drills, while Iskander tactical ballistic missiles will be deployed in support of ground troops in the Baltic, the Interfax news service reported on Tuesday, citing an unidentified Defense Ministry official. Fighter and bomber aircraft are also being sent to the Kaliningrad region, a Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea wedged between Poland and Lithuania.

Ships of the Baltic Fleet as well as airborne forces and troops from the southern military district are at “the highest state of combat readiness,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement on its website on Tuesday.

Russia announced the drills involving 38,000 troops, 41 warships, 15 submarines and 110 aircraft on Monday, a day after Putin disclosed in a Russian television documentary that he was ready to put the country’s nuclear forces on alert when he annexed Crimea from Ukraine a year ago. Crimea held a disputed referendum on joining Russia on March 16 last year and Putin formally announced the seizure of the Black Sea peninsula two days later, sparking the worst crisis in relations with the U.S. and Europe since the Cold War.

‘Great Power’

Crimea is a region of Russia and isn’t occupied, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow on Tuesday.

The latest military activity “comes down to the personality of Putin and the people around him who want to show Russia is a great power,” Mats Berdal, a professor in the Department of War Studies at King’s College, London, said by phone on Tuesday. “The Northern Fleet mobilization was really huge and may have been linked to marking the one-year anniversary of Crimea’s annexation.”

Russia’s military has improved its response times in moving forces around quickly and “Putin wants both to test this -- and to show it,” Berdal said.

Member states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were notified about the unplanned military drills, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said on Tuesday, according to Interfax. Russia wasn’t obliged to provide notice of the exercises, he said.

Russia is “deeply concerned about the increase in exercises of NATO countries close to our borders,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksey Meshkov said on Monday, according to Tass news service. It’s “particularly surprising that this takes place in the northeastern region of Europe, which is the most stable in security terms, not only on our continent but possibly in the world,” he said.

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