8,500 Russian troops perform military drills near Ukrainian border

By Dmitry Rashnitsov  |  Feb. 12, 2016 at 4:06 PM
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SEVASTOPOL, Crimea, Feb. 12 (UPI) -- Russian troops conducted drills in the Black Sea and on land this week near the border with Ukraine -- deploying more than 8,500 troops, 50 warships and 200 aircraft.

The move comes as NATO, also this week, announced it would have a larger presence in the region.

Video obtained by Sky News showed fighter jets dropping bombs, ground troops and army helicopters involved in drills.

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu told News.Lia.Net, "Increased levels of troops in the Crimea is necessary to defend our Southern borders."

Crimea, a military stronghold on a valuable seaport, has been a center of conflict since 2014. Ukrainians believe Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally seized the peninsula after allegations of a secret proxy war and vote rigging in an annexation election surfaced. Russia disputes those claims, saying it is upholding the will of the residents of the region. The annexation resulted in economic sanctions on Russia.

National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov told News.Liga.Net he believes that the increased troop movement into Crimea is a sign that Russia is planning to take offensive military action against Ukraine.

Pope Francis was expected to bring up the issue of Crimea in his meeting Friday in Havana with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.

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