Ukrainian forces move East, Russia responds with military drills
After the re-launching of an anti-terrorist operation, Ukrainian forces killed up to five pro-Moscow separatists in the east of the country today. In response, Russia started military drills near the Ukrainian border.
Ukraine’s Interior Ministry forces backed by the army removed three checkpoints manned by armed groups in the separatist-controlled town of Slaviansk, the ministry said in a statement.
"During the armed clash up to five terrorists were eliminated," it said, adding that one person had been wounded on the side of government forces.
In response to the operation and NATO exercises in eastern Europe, Moscow started military drills near the Ukrainian border, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
"We are forced to react to such a development of the situation," he added.
The minister said that starting today, battalions of tactical groups from the armed forces' southern and western military districts would begin exercises in regions of Russia bordering Ukraine.
"Apart from that, the air force will conduct flights to train for manoeuvres along the state borders," Interfax quoted Shoigu as saying.
This week in St Petersburg, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that if the authorities in Kiev used the army in eastern Ukraine, it would be a very serious crime against its own people.
"It is just a punitive operation and it will of course incur consequences for the people making these decisions, including (an effect) on our interstate relations," Putin said in a televised meeting with regional media.
Under an international accord signed in Geneva last week, illegal armed groups, including the rebels occupying about a dozen public buildings in the largely Russian-speaking east, are supposed to disarm and go home.
However, the Kremlin, which has deployed tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine's border, maintains it has the right to protect Russian-speakers if they come under threat, a reason it gave for annexing the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine last month.