March 23 (UPI) -- The Russian army ended war exercises on its western border, it announced on Monday, as a preventative measure against the COVID-19 virus.
The war games were to be a response to a massive exercise by NATO troops in March, Europe-Defender 20, that was to involve over 20,000 U.S. troops and personnel from 10 other countries but was severely reduced in scope after the outbreak. The NATO exercise was criticized by the Kremlin, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in February that Russia would respond with a reciprocal show of force.
"It's obvious that all of this is connected with preventive measures," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday of the cancellation of the Russian war games. "It's linked to the situation around the general fight against coronavirus."
An earlier statement from a Russian military official said the war games were called off as a sign of goodwill toward NATO.
Russia has announced only 200 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and on Friday Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said none were in the country's armed forces. The Russian military is involved in an airlift of medical personnel and material to Italy, which has been severely struck by the pandemic.
Russia's military also announced that the annual spring conscription, a military draft held between April and July, will go on as planned, and despite a ban on outdoor public gatherings in Moscow, over 10,000 soldiers have been practicing their routines for the planned May 9 Victory Day parade in Moscow's Red Square.