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Russia threatens retaliation if Ukraine holds missile tests

Russia considers the placement and testing of anti-aircraft missiles on the Crimean peninsula a violation of Russian airspace and territory because of claims it put on the land two years ago.

By Stephen Feller
Russia threatens retaliation if Ukraine holds missile tests
Russia has threatened to destroy anti-aircraft missiles and the equipment they are launched from if Ukraine goes ahead with a planned weapons test Thursday and Friday as Ukraine's Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin speaks to the media after peace talks on the crisis in eastern Ukraine in Minsk, Belarus, on Nov. 29. Separatist violence in the region has killed nearly 10,000 people since it erupted in 2014, including a Russian move to annex part of the country that year. EPA/TATYANA ZENKOVICH

KIEV, Ukraine, Nov. 30 (UPI) -- Russian air defenses have been put on high alert ahead of Ukraine's missile tests this weekend, warning they will retaliate if the tests happen.

Ukraine plans to stage anti-aircraft missile tests Thursday and Friday off the Crimean Peninsula as part of a larger military drill to gain experience with the equipment, a plan Russia has called a provocation they would likely respond to.

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The Ukrainian Air Force plans to carry out simulated combat tasks over the Black Sea, a major portion of which will be the testing of "average range" guided anti-aircraft missiles. The air force plans to use drones as targets for the missiles.

Russia threatened days ago to eliminate the missiles and launchers that fire them if the test goes forward -- which Ukraine said it fully intends to do.

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"Ukraine is a sovereign state," said Andriy Lysenko, spokesperson for Ukraine's ministry of defense. "All military exercises and tests are held according to a strict schedule and under international law... As for any threats [from Russia], no one can interfere with the Ukrainian Armed Forces' operational plans."

Ukraine has been discussing stepped up patrols of the Black Sea with NATO recently because of events during the last two years there, which have mostly been fallout from Russia claiming the peninsula and territorial waters around it.

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Russia sees the Ukrainian test as an affront, taking the nation's leaders to task for provoking them by showing off weaponry that could be used to shoot down Russian planes. With the anti-aircraft missile on the Ukraine coast -- which Russia now claims as its territory and airspace -- the Russians are taking the presence of the missiles as a challenge.

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"We have will have to respond militarily," said Konstanin Kosachev, Foreign Policy Committee chair in the Russian Parliament's upper house. "Of course this would be the least desirable scenario, and all of us must work to prevent it... But eight years ago the leader of another country that was in conflict with Russia -- I'm referring to Georgia -- decided to test our military. And we all know how that ended. I hope Ukrainian officials remember the lesson from that experience."

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