( February 25, Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin ordered an urgent drill to test the combat readiness of his armed forces across western Russia on Wednesday, flexing Moscow's military muscle amid tension with the West over Ukraine. Russia said the exercises were not linked to events in Ukraine, where the ouster of a president who turned his back on the European Union and sought closer ties with Moscow has raised worries in the West over possibility of military intervention.
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the training drills were not linked to events in Ukraine, and Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov said they had been previously planned. He said they would involve about 150,000 military personnel. The western district encompasses most of western Russia and borders Ukraine, which lies between NATO nations and Russia. Forces must "be ready to bomb unfamiliar testing grounds" as part of the drill, Shoigu told a Defence Ministry meeting.
The United States and European nations have warned Russia against military intervention in Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that Putin has called a "brother nation" and wants to be part of a Eurasian Union he is building in the region.
Russian officials have said Moscow will not interfere in Ukraine, while accusing the West of doing so. Interfax cited the speaker of the upper parliament house, Valentina Matviyenko, as saying on Wednesday it would not use force. But Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Monday that Russia's interests and its citizens in Ukraine were under threat, language reminiscent of statements justifying Russia's invasion of Georgia in 2008, when he was president.
Shoigu said the drill would also test the counter-terrorism measures in place at military units. Russian officials have referred to some of the Ukrainian opposition forces whose protests pushed Yanukovich from power as "terrorists".
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