Russian forces were placed on full combat alert Thursday as troops prepared to conduct snap military drills on the nation’s Western flank bordering Ukraine, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu confirmed.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the exercises to examine the ability of southern troops "to deploy promptly self-sufficient forces to localize crisis situations," the Wall Street Journal reported. The Defense Ministry will also test the preparedness of forces in the western and central regions to deliver support to the southeast. The drills will continue through Aug. 31.
The exercises come as tensions between Ukraine and Russia worsen. Putin accused Kiev earlier this month of using "terror" tactics after killing two service members in Crimea.
Russia last week deployed tens of thousands of troops to newly built military bases on the Ukrainian border. The Kremlin said the move is part of a military strategy to counter perceived threats from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has ordered troops on the border with Crimea and the frontline in Eastern Ukraine on high alert after Russian accusations that Ukrainian intelligence agents plotted terror attacks on the peninsula. He warned that the country may have to move toward martial law and mobilization to prepare for a "full scale Russian invasion."
Russia plans to hold large-scale military drills in Crimea next month. Military analysts said Russian-Ukrainian tensions are at the highest point since a February 2015 ceasefire agreement brokered in Minsk.
Russia annexed Crimea in spring 2014, provoking international sanctions. Fighting in Ukraine between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces has endured for more than two years, escalating this past month in the country’s eastern regions.