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Russia holds drills involving ballistic missiles near western border

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
File photo shows the Russian Iskander missile system being prepped for launch during military exercises.

Russia has conducted military drills involving modern ballistic missiles near its western border, amid tensions between Moscow and the West over the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.

The Russian Defense Ministry said Thursday that Iskander-M missiles were deployed and preparations were made for their firing during the drills near the city of Luga, located about 100 kilometers east of the border with Estonia.

Iskander is a high-precision missile which has a range of up to 500 kilometers and can be fitted with a conventional or a nuclear warhead.

In another drill, the Russian military's Strategic Missile Forces fired a Yars intercontinental ballistic missile over a river in western Russia to practice the mobility of the missile.

The NATO military alliance has on several occasions criticized Moscow’s deployment of long-range missiles near member countries neighboring Russia.

Earlier this month, Moscow deployed Iskander missiles to the westernmost Kaliningrad region, near its border with the Baltic countries, saying the move was part of regular military trainings.

Russian drills have increased both in number and scale since relations between the country and the West began to sour over the crisis in eastern Ukraine. The West accuses Russia of having a hand in the conflict. Russia rejects the allegations of direct involvement but says it will support the ethnic Russian population in the east against the suppression by the Ukrainian government.

Meanwhile, the Russian government has complained strongly against the deployment of NATO's forces near its borders, vowing that the move will not go unanswered.

Tensions between Moscow and the West have also escalated since earlier this month, when the United States and its allies alleged that Russia’s bombings over Syria's militant-held city of Aleppo amounted to war crimes.

Moscow, which has been carrying out attacks against terrorists in Syria at the request of Damascus for nearly a year, has dismissed the allegation and defended the ongoing push to fully liberate Aleppo from terror groups. It saying its aerial campaign against terrorists has been “highly effective.” 

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