Russian troops embark on a frenzy of ‘exercises’ on Ukrainian border hours after Putin told US and NATO to ‘go to hell’ and stoked invasion fears – amid claims of ‘mass grave’ sites being prepared
The drills come amid claims ‘mass grave’ sties, each capable of accommodating 100 bodies, are being prepared along the Ukrainian border ahead of a possible invasion by Russian forces.
Moscow has for weeks been massing tens of thousands of troops, tanks and artillery pieces along its eastern flank, sparking fears of an invasion, though the Kremlin has insisted it is merely a defence force.
More than 1,000 troops were involved in firing exercises in five regions yesterday while tanks conducted mobile defence drills involving 500 soldiers and Sukhoi Su-27SM3 fighter jets practiced challenging warships.
It came hours after Putin, speaking at his annual end-of-year press conference yesterday, accused NATO and the US of planning to deploy hypersonic missiles – which have not yet been successfully developed – to Ukraine.
The Russian strongman blamed NATO’s militarisation of former Soviet states, such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, since the end of the Cold War for the current crisis and threatened that Russia ‘can do anything at any cost’ to protect itself.
Russian troops engaged in a frenzy of ‘exercises’ on the Ukrainian border yesterday hours after Vladimir Putin told US and NATO to ‘go to hell’, stoking fears of an invasion
More than 1,000 troops were involved in firing exercises in five regions yesterday while tanks conducted mobile defence drills involving 500 soldiers
Five ultra modern MiG-31BM interceptor fighter jets (pictured) practiced yesterday amid claims ‘mass grave’ sties, each capable of accommodating 100 bodies, are being prepared along the Ukrainian border
Moscow has for weeks been massing tens of thousands of troops, tanks and artillery pieces along its eastern flank, sparking fears of an invasion, though the Kremlin has insisted it is merely a defence force (pictured, Russian forces currently massed in border regions)
Putin, speaking at his annual end-of-year press conference yesterday, accused NATO and the US of planning to deploy hypersonic missiles – which have not yet been successfully developed – to Ukraine
In the Black Sea Sukhoi Su-27SM3 fighter jets stationed in Krasnodar drilled on challenging Western or Ukrainian warships seen as threatening the Russian border, defence sources said.
‘In the course of training flights, Su-27SM3 duos escorted Sukhoi Su-34 fighter bombers and practised airborne duty, detection and following of mock transgressor ships demonstrating an intention to illegal cross the Russian sea border,’ said a fleet statement.
Separately, the sprawling central military district announced a 50 per cent increase in drills for 2022, amounting to almost one every day.
Video shows a batch of five ultra modern MiG-31BM interceptor fighters which were deployed in the district. And in Kemerovo, tanks conducted mobile defence drills involving 500 troops.
A report on the exercises stated: ‘The simulated enemy made an attempt to break through the defences with the help of heavy armoured vehicles.
‘The crews of tank units destroyed the enemy using mobile defence tactics, a feature of which is the preparation of several positions at different lines for each combat vehicle.
‘At the same time, after each shot, the tank changes its position.
‘The crews of the combat vehicle, by changing the firing positions, imitate the fire of more equipment and force the enemy to respond, thereby revealing themselves for the vehicles in ambush, which open fire in a volley at the detected targets.’
Central district commander, Colonel General Alexander Lapin, said: ‘We will continue to build up the combat potential of the district’s troops and maintain it at a level that ensures the military security of Russia and its allies.’
In the Arctic, Russian forces were deployed setting up a communications system in harsh deep winter conditions at a firing range in Murmansk region
Video shows a batch of five ultra modern MiG-31BM interceptor fighters which were deployed in the central military district of Russia
In Volgograd more than 1,000 infantry troops trained in missile and artillery fire with 152mm Msta-S self-propelled howitzers, Tornado-G rocket launchers, and T-90A tanks.
In Buryatia, motorised riflemen on infantry fighting vehicles thwarted the offensive of an ‘enemy’ in temperatures as low as minus 40C.
In Ulyanovsk, Russian airborne troops were drilling in a ‘high-precision shooting championship’.
On Ukraine’s western border in the Moldovan separatist region of Transnistria, Russian forces stationed in the territory drilled in ‘radiation, chemical and biological protection’, it was reported.
In the Arctic, Russian forces were deployed setting up a communications system in harsh deep winter conditions at a firing range in Murmansk region.
‘The drills have been arranged and are taking place with the participation of troops and military hardware to upgrade firing and driving skills and to continue tactical and special training,’ said Russian military news agency Interfax-AVN today.
Mass burial sites were being dug along the Ukraine border as a ‘priority’, Russian outlet MK reported, citing leaked legal documents.
The graves are being constructed near to crematoriums, according to the documents, which come into force on February 1.
In Buryatia, motorised riflemen on infantry fighting vehicles thwarted the offensive of an ‘enemy’ in temperatures as low as minus 40C
Russian soldiers take part in a high-precision shooting championship among the military personnel of the Airborne Forces in Ulyanovsk during mass drills yesterday
What did Vladimir Putin say on each topic at his end-of-year press conference?
On possible conflict with Ukraine:
‘This is not our choice, we do not want this.’
‘We have to think about ensuring our security prospects not just for today and next week but for the near future.’
‘We just directly posed the question that there should be no further NATO movement to the east, the ball is in their court, they should answer us with something. In this regard, I would like to stress that on the whole we have seen a positive reaction so far, our American partners tell us that they are ready to start this discussion.’
On NATO expansion:
‘What is unclear here? Are we putting missiles next to the United States’ borders? No, it is the United States that has come to us with their missiles, they are already on our doorstep.’
‘The course of negotiations is not important to us, the result is important… ‘Not one inch to the East,’ they told us in the 90s. So what? They cheated, just brazenly tricked us! Five waves of NATO expansion and now already, please, the systems are appearing in Romania and Poland.’
‘The future of Donbass should be determined by the people who live in Donbass… It cannot be any other way. We see our role as mediators in creating the best conditions for determining the future of the people who live in this territory.’
On Russia labelling some media as foreign agents:
‘We do not forbid the work of these organisations. We want organisations engaging in Russia’s domestic political activity to clearly and concisely declare the sources of foreign funding for their work.’
Last week, Moscow submitted draft security documents demanding that NATO deny membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet countries and roll back the alliance’s military deployments in Central and Eastern Europe.
A key principle of the NATO alliance is that membership is open to any qualifying country.
The US and its allies have said they will not give Russia the kind of guarantee on Ukraine that Putin wants but American officials are conferring with European allies in advance of the Geneva talks.
Putin said Thursday that Washington has been willing to discuss the proposals and talks could happen at the start of next year in Geneva.
A senior US official said Washington was ready for talks ‘as soon as early January’.
Putin said: ‘There must not be any eastward NATO expansion… The ball is in their court. They need to provide us with some answer,’ he added: ‘Overall we see a positive reaction.’
‘US partners told us that they are ready to begin this discussion, these talks, at the very start of next year in Geneva,’ Putin said, adding that representatives from both sides have been appointed.
The growing tensions peaked this week when Putin vowed that Russia would take ‘appropriate retaliatory’ military steps in response to what he called the West’s ‘aggressive stance’.
Mr Putin likened the build-up of Nato forces in countries which once belonged to the Soviet Union to Russia establishing a military presence in Canada and Mexico.
He said: ‘Is it us who are putting missiles near the US borders? No, it’s the US who came to our home with their missiles.
‘Is it some excessive demand not to place any offensive systems near our home?
‘We have clearly and precisely let them know that any further Nato expansion eastward is unacceptable. And it is you [the West] who must give us guarantees and give them immediately, and not have idle talk about it for decades.’
Mr Putin claims that at the end of the Cold War Nato assured Russia it would respect its territorial heritage and made promises not to expand the alliance into central and eastern Europe.
But many eastern European nations feared they would be absorbed back into a greater Russia or become its client states again, losing new-found freedoms.
Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined Nato in 1999, followed in 2004 by Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.