Vladimir Putin mobilised more than 150,000 troops and an armada of ships yesterday for a drill to test the combat readiness of forces in western Russia as tensions over Ukraine continue to grow.

In addition to the soldiers – nearly twice the British Army’s manpower after planned cuts – 880 tanks, 210 aircraft and 80 warships will take part in the operation.

The manoeuvres raised fears that the Russian president may be planning to send forces into Ukraine after the toppling of its Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovych.

The might of the Red Army: Just a fifth of Russia's forces are considerably bigger than Britain's whole arsenal

The might of the Red Army: Just a fifth of Russia’s forces are considerably bigger than Britain’s whole arsenal

 

 

 

 

 

 
Clashes: Fist fights broke out today between pro- and anti-Russian protesters in the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine. In response Russia has reportedly ordered an immediate test of 150,000 troops

Clashes: Fist fights broke out today between pro- and anti-Russian protesters in the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine. In response Russia has reportedly ordered an immediate test of 150,000 troops.

Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said unspecified measures were also being taken to protect the country’s Black Sea fleet in Crimea, southern Ukraine.

He claimed the operation was not linked to the crisis in Ukraine, insisting it was intended to ‘check the troops’ readiness for action in crisis situations that threaten the nation’s military security’.

The drill comes 48 hours after Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev said the country’s interests and citizens in Ukraine were under threat in language that echoed his statements justifying Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 when he was president.

The US and EU nations have warned Russia against military intervention in Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that Mr Putin wants to be part of a Eurasian union he is creating. The crisis began three months ago after Mr Yanukovych ditched closer ties with the EU in favour of Mr Putin’s scheme.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, who is overseeing the reduction of the Army to around half the size of the Russian mobilisation, said yesterday: ‘We will obviously want to take proper cognizance of any activities by Russian forces. We urge all parties to allow the Ukrainian people to settle internal differences and determine their future without external interference.’

He was speaking as Nato defence ministers, meeting in Brussels, issued a statement ahead of a two-day summit supporting Ukrainian sovereignty and independence. US secretary of state John Kerry said Russia should respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine and be ‘very careful’ in its behaviour.

In a TV interview, he added: ‘What we need now to do is not get into an old Cold War confrontation.’

Mr Shoigu said the Russian tests will be conducted in two stages.

At first, military units will be brought to ‘the highest degree of combat readiness’ and deployed to land and sea positions.

The second stage will include tactical exercises involving warships from the northern and Baltic fleets, while some warplanes will move to combat airfields. Mr Shoigu said the forces must ‘be ready to bomb unfamiliar testing grounds’.

The change of government in Kiev has raised questions over the future of Russia’s naval bases in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, the lease for which was extended until 2042 by Mr Yanukovych. Most observers believe the new leadership will not push for the withdrawal of the Russian fleet, as this could create further tensions.

Yesterday, thousands of protesters took part in rival rallies in Crimea’s administrative capital Simferopol ahead of a planned session of the region’s parliament.

Fights broke out between pro-Russians and more than 10,000 Muslim Tatars who rallied in support of the interim government, chanting: ‘Ukraine is not Russia!’

Independence Square to hear former economy minister Arseny Yatseniuk nominated as their new leader

 

 
Shift: The new Ukranian cabinet (announced in Kiev, pictured) will be pro-Western after months of protests which demanded the government prevent itself sliding under the grip of Russian influence. Tensions remain

Shift: The new Ukranian cabinet (announced in Kiev, pictured) will be pro-Western after months of protests which demanded the government prevent itself sliding under the grip of Russian influence. Tensions remain

The tensions in Crimea highlight the divisions that run through the nation of 46million, and underscore fears that the country’s mainly Russian-speaking east and south will not recognize the interim authority’s legitimacy.

Ethnic Ukrainians loyal to Kiev have joined the Tatars in an alliance to oppose any move back towards Moscow.

Ukraine’s interim president Oleksandr Turchinov has expressed concern about the ‘serious threat’ of separatism following the ousting of Mr Yanukovych, who was last night put on the international wanted list, accused of being behind the killing of more than 100 protesters by riot police last week.

Russia has portrayed the overthrow of Mr Yanukovych, whose whereabouts are unknown after he fled on Thursday, as a violent seizure of power, while many EU countries back the regime change.

Pro-Ukraine protest groups last night named their proposed cabinet for the interim government. MPs were expected to vote on the nominations today.

The ‘Euromaidan’ council of protest leaders made its announcement of Yatseniuk, plus candidates for several other key ministers, after its members addressed crowds on Kiev’s Independence Square.

Oleksander Turchinov said the new government would have to take unpopular decisions to head off defaulting on its debts and to guarantee a normal life for Ukraine’s people.

The Euromaidan’s proposals have yet to be approved by parliament.

The council also named career diplomat Andriy Deshchytsya as foreign minister.

Oleksander Shlapak, a former economy minister and former deputy head of the central bank, was named as finance minister.

Andriy Paruby, head of the ‘self-defence’ force protecting the Kiev protest zone from police action during the three months of conflict, was named secretary of the powerful National Security and Defence Council.

AFTER SNIPERS AND PETROL BOMBS, THE NEW THREAT TO THE PEOPLE UKRAINE IS FINANCIAL COLLAPSE

Ukraine has just emerged from a bloody revolution, but its problem have only just begun

Ukraine has just emerged from a bloody revolution, but its problem have only just begun

As tensions flare between the East and West of Ukraine, and politicians scramble to from a government, a new threat to Ukraine’s future has emerged.

The country faces financial collapse as international loans dry up.

The interim president Olexander Turchynov has appealed for £20billion from foreign nations in order to stop the country going bankrupt.

And now concerned citizens are withdrawing money from their bank accounts en masse, worried that they will lose everything if the nation goes bust.

In just two days from February 18, around £1.8bn was withdrawn from bank accounts across the country.

After an agreement to sign a deal introducing a new interim government withdrawals slowed down in the West, but remain high in the East where tensions over Russia’s relationship with the country remain high.

The interim government is now considering measure to limit cash withdrawals to stop the banks going into meltdown.

Speaking to Bloomberg, Lilit Gevorgyan, senior economist at IHS Global Insight in London, said: ‘Ukraine’s economy needs rescue and that adds pressure on the revolutionary political forces to create a truly national unity government.

‘The large bailout plan that Ukraine currently seeks won’t be handed out by international donors to a weak and non-inclusive government.’

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