Putin calls end to snap drill of armed forces
MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
Military personnel, believed to be Russian servicemen, march outside the territory of a Ukrainian military unit in the village of Perevalnoye outside Simferopol, March 4, 2014. REUTERS PhotoRussian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday told troops to return to their permanent bases after calling a snap drill to check their battle-readiness last week.
"The commander-in-chief President Vladimir Putin gave the order to the troops and units taking part in military exercises to return to their permanent bases," a statement on the Kremlin website said.
Putin on February 26 ordered snap combat readiness drills involving thousands of troops, in what was ostensibly a routine exercise unconnected to the situation in Ukraine.
The unidentified armed forces backing the breakaway movement in Crimea have not been acknowledged by Russia as its troops, although Ukrainian officials say that they are clearly Russian soldiers.
The drill involved army, navy and airforce troops based in the central and western military districts, a vast territory that includes regions bordering Ukraine but also extending to the Arctic.
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu had said that the drill would include military exercises "on Russia's borders with other countries, including Ukraine".
The drill did not include any regions beyond Russia's borders such as Crimea, the Ukrainian Black Sea region which has become a flashpoint in the standoff between Moscow and Ukraine's new authorities after the ousting of president Viktor Yanukovych.
The exercises were "no more than polishing battle skills," a source in Russia's armed forces Joint Staff told Kommersant business daily.
Putin watched exercises with tanks, helicopters and around 1,800 troops in the Leningrad region on Monday.
Shoigu said on Tuesday that the drill had revealed "significant improvements" and ordered the troops to be back at their bases by Friday as planned, cited by the RIA Novosti news agency.
The drill, which was initially announced to finish on Monday, came shortly before Russian security forces began operating covertly in Crimea and Putin gained permission from senators for military intervention on Saturday.
The announcement of the end of the drill was widely interpreted as a positive signal as Russia teeters on the brink of war in Ukraine.
Respected business daily Vedomosti linked it to a rise in the falling ruble's value on Tuesday morning, saying that the ruble "was up on the announcements of the return of Russian troops to their bases."
Fears of a prolonged military campaign in Ukraine led to a stock market collapse and the ruble plunging in value to record levels against the dollar and euro on Monday.