Russia to hold airborne drills near Ukraine border simulating capturing new territory

Hundreds of Russian paratroopers are holding two days of military drills near Ukraine’s border simulating capturing territory, Moscow said on Thursday, upping the ante in its standoff with the West over Kyiv’s membership in Nato.

The defence ministry said 1,200 paratroopers, over 250 vehicles and and aircraft will take part in war games at a training ground in Crimea and in the southern Krasnodar region, across the Azov Sea from the Ukrainian coast, on Thursday and Friday.

Moscow said the drills would practise capturing an area in a mock offensive operation “ensuring a quick advance of the main body of troops.”

The drills come just two days after Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, warned that Russia was prepared to take “military measures” in response to the West’s “aggressive” actions in Ukraine, hinting at potential conflict.

Russian troops and heavy weaponry have been moving across the country towards the Ukrainian border for months, with the Kremlin warning of potential action in response to what it sees as Western encroachment towards its borders.

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Oleksiy Danilov, chairman of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, said on Wednesday about 122,000 Russian troops are currently deployed within 200 kilometres of his country’s border.

Russia last week unveiled a draft security agreement with the US and Nato, demanding that the military alliance agree not to accept Ukraine and any other former Soviet republics as members and not to deploy any troops or weapons there.

Nato has pushed back, saying that it is only up to the organisation to decide which country gets the membership.

But Mr Putin is seeking legally binding guarantees to that effect and has sent the US proposed dates for talks over the issue, the RIA news agency cited the Russian foreign ministry as saying on Thursday, without specifying the schedule.

Mr Ryabkov was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying that Moscow will not accept any preliminary conditions for the talks. 

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