Russia defense minister: Westwards troop movements response to NATO

Russian Tu-160 and Belgian Air Force F-16 escorting it, in a photo from 2019. Overflights close to or even inside Baltic States' airspace by Russian Federation military aircraft have long been a weekly occurrence. Source: Belgian Air Force

The Russian Federation is deploying troops on its western borders in order to engage in what the Kremlin calls training exercises prompted by the threat of NATO, that country's defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, says.

Speaking on Russian TV Tuesday, Shoigu, who last month was photographed accompanying Russian President Vladimir Putin while on a Siberian vacation, said that: "In response to the alliance's military activities, which are threatening Russia, we have taken appropriate measures."

"Over three weeks, two armies and three airborne units were successfully deployed to the western borders of the Russian Federation in areas for performing combat training exercises," Shoigu, who was attending a meeting in the northern naval city of Severomorsk, near Murmansk, went on.

Shoigu added that: "The troops have shown full readiness and ability to carry out tasks to ensure the country's military security," adding that the exercises would take around two weeks to conclude.

Shoigu's statements come on the heels of accusations from both Ukraine and its western allies, that tens of thousands of troops have been massing on the Russian side of the border with Ukraine. NATO has urged Moscow to end its "unjustified" build-up.

The Crimea region, formerly Ukrainian territory, was annexed by the Russian Federation in 2014, the same year that the ongoing insurgency war in the east of Ukraine began. The 2016 NATO Warsaw Summit was followed by the establishment of four battlegroups in the Baltic States and Poland, which in Estonia's case is U.K.-led.

NATO Baltic air policing duties have been running since Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined the alliance in 2004, with jets based at Ämari, Estonia and Šiauliai, Lithuania.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, also speaking Tuesday, has told Russia to end its "unjustified, unexplained and deeply concerning" military build-up on the borders of Ukraine.

Shoigu noted that NATO personnel from the U.S. and Canada have been deployed in Europe, close to Russia's borders, and primarily in the Baltic and Black Sea regions, where tens of thousands of personnel are currently based. This has been accompanied by a doubling in intelligence activity, as well as dozens of large-scale NATO annual exercises, which Shoigu called "anti-Russian" in nature.

This spring sees the largest pan-NATO joint arms training exercise, Defender Europe, Shoigu went on.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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