President Vladimir Putin has ordered a snap military drill in Russia’s western region bordering Ukraine as the war of words between the two countries grows increasingly acrimonious.
Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the armed forces of the Western and Central Commands had been put on “combat alert” for week-long exercises to check their readiness.
Mr. Putin has ordered several surprise drills across Russia since last year, but the current war games are bound to be linked to the crisis in Ukraine.
Moscow slammed the overthrow of President Victor Yanukovych as “armed mutiny,” recalled its ambassador and accused the new authorities in Kiev of stirring a hate campaign against all Russian in Ukraine.
Ukraine’s Parliament on Sunday repealed a law making Russian a second official language in half of Ukraine’s provinces with a sizable share of Russian-speakers.
Nationalists have been pulling down Russian monuments in Ukraine and demanding a ban on Russian television channels.
The Russian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday lashed out at “non-abating outrages” by Ukraine’s “extremists” accusing them of attempts to seize monasteries of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine and intimidate Orthodox priests.
Moscow called on “all sensible forces” in Ukraine to halt the country’s “backslide to religious confrontation.” Ukraine’s three former Presidents in turn accused Russia of meddling in Ukraine’s affairs. In a joint statement Leonid Kravchuk, Leonid Kuchma and Victor Yushchenko said Moscow “has resorted to outright interference” in Ukraine’s Crimea and called for security services to take action against “manifestations of separatism.”
The autonomous eastern peninsula of Crimea with a predominantly ethnic Russian population has rebelled against the change of regime in Kiev.
Pro-Russian demonstrators on Wednesday clashed with pro-Ukrainian Tatars in Simferopol, capital of Crimea.
A Russian businessman elected on Sunday Mayor of Sevastopol has set up an “anti-terrorist council” to prevent Ukrainian nationalists from making trouble in the city which is home to a major Russian naval base on the Black Sea.
Russia sent a parliamentary delegation to Crimea in a gesture of support for Russian-speakers in the region and is planning to send another one later this week.
Three opposition parties in the Russian Parliament have called for passing a law to grant Russian citizenship to ethnic Russians in Crimea.