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Russia: 10,000 troops returning to bases after drills near Ukraine

Armed servicemen wait near Russian army vehicles outside a Ukrainian border guard post in the Crimean town of Balaclava March 1, 2014. (Photo by Reuters)

The Russian army says more than 10,000 Russian troops are returning to their permanent bases after month-long drills near Ukraine.

"A stage of combat coordination of divisions, combat crews, squads at motorized units... has been completed. More than 10,000 military servicemen... will march to their permanent deployment from the territory of the combined arms' area of drills," Interfax quoted the army as saying Saturday.

The drills, Interfax news agency said, were held in several regions near Ukraine, including in Crimea, which rejoined Russia in 2014, as well as in the southern Russian regions of Rostov and Kuban.

Kyiv and Western capitals have been claiming that Russia's deployment of troops near Ukraine was a preparation for an attack.

Russia denies any such plans, saying it can deploy its troops on its territory as it sees fit.

Moscow is also worried about NATO’s eastward expansion towards Russian borders and says its own security is threatened by Ukraine's growing ties with the Western alliance.

On Friday, President Vladimir Putin said Russia has successfully test-fired a simultaneous salvo of the Zircon hypersonic missiles, describing it as "a big event" for his nation.

"The tests were conducted successfully, immaculately," Putin said in televised remarks at a government meeting, adding that the salvo launch of the missile had been carried out overnight.

"This is a big event in the life of the country and a considerable step in strengthening Russia's security and improving its defense capability," he added.

Putin first unveiled the development of the supersonic missile during a state of the nation address back in February 2019, noting that it could strike targets at sea and on land within a range of 1,000 kilometers at a speed of Mach 9.

The latest test, however, marked the first time that Russian authorities have reported a successful simultaneous launch of multiple Zircon missiles as other world powers race to develop more advanced armaments as a perceived instrument to push their interests across the globe.

Russia, along with the US, France and China have so far been experimenting with the so-called hypersonic glide vehicles - defined as reaching speeds of at least Mach 5.

Gorbachev: US became 'arrogant' after fall of Soviet Union 

Putin’s announcement coincided with the anniversary of stepping down of Russia’s last Soviet-era president Mikhail Gorbachev and the ensuring collapse of the former Soviet Union, which also led to the eastward expansion of NATO.

In an interview on Friday, Gorbachev, 90, used the occasion to state that the US grew "arrogant and self-confident" following the collapse of the Soviet Union, recalling that there was a "triumphant mood in the West, especially in the United States."

"How can one count on equal relations with the United States and the West in such a position," Gorbachev said in the interview with state news agency RIA Novosti. "They grew arrogant and self-confident. They declared victory in the Cold War."

Gorbachev said the 'winners' then decided to build a new empire. "Hence the idea of NATO expansion," he said.

On Friday, Putin said the Western countries must immediately give Russia security guarantees, calling NATO’s eastward expansion unacceptable.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also said Washington’s efforts to "drag" Ukraine into NATO poses "unacceptable threats" to Russia.

"The policy towards pulling Kiev into NATO with a prospect of strike missile systems appearing near our borders creates unacceptable security threats to Russia, provoking serious military risks for all the parties involved, up to a large-scale conflict in Europe," Lavrov added during an interview with Bosnian daily Oslobodjenje

Attack on consulate in Ukraine a 'terrorist act'

The Russian consulate in the western Ukrainian city of Lvov came under attack on Friday when an unidentified assailant threw a Molotov cocktail at its entrance.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry condemned the assault as a “terrorist act” and blamed the incident on Kiev’s Western-backed efforts to stir up anti-Russia hatred in the divided country.

“It is clear that this outrageous and unacceptable act has become a result of stirring up Russophobic hysteria in Ukraine and incitement to hatred against the Russian Federation,” the ministry declared in a statement. 

Relations between Ukraine and Russia have been deteriorating since 2014, when Crimea voted in a referendum to fall under Russian sovereignty. The US and the European Union backed Kiev, refusing to recognize the referendum results and later imposing sanctions on Moscow.

Ukraine as well as the EU and the US also claim that Russia has a hand in an ongoing conflict that has erupted in the Donbass region of Ukraine between government forces and ethnic Russians since 2014.  

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