President Vladimir Putin ordered massive military exercises involving troops in western Russia, as pro-Western Ukrainian revolutionaries charted a new course in Kiev.
The military exercise is meant to “check the troops’ readiness for action in crisis situations that threaten the nation’s military security,” said Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who added that Putin ordered the exercise Wednesday afternoon. The troop maneuvers will begin Friday and will last four days, and involve ships of the Baltic and Northern Fleets and the air force.
Shoigu did not make any reference to Ukraine, which shares a border with western Russia, the Associated Press reports. Opposition figures there are setting the groundwork for a new government after toppling the Russia-supported President Viktor Yanukovych. A Russian lawmaker promised Tuesday to protect pro-Russia activists in Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, where Russia has a major naval base.
It remains to be seen what kind of pressure Putin will apply in Ukraine and how he may seek to reassert his control in the country. When the protests began in December, Putin promised Russia would not use military force in Ukraine. “None of this means that we are going to go in there and wave our saber around and send in our troops,” he said at his annual year-end press conference three months before Yanukovych was overthrown. “That’s total rubbish. That is not happening and cannot happen.”