The Russian military has proven its capability to quickly deploy large forces to far-flung areas, including the Arctic, during massive war games that have spread from the nation's western border to the Pacific, the defence minister said Wednesday.
The show of military might comes as Russia marks the one-year anniversary of its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, which triggered the worst Russia-West crisis since Cold War times.
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Wednesday that about 76,000 troops, over 100 ships and more than 200 aircraft are taking part in Arctic manoeuvres this week. At the same time, the military is conducting similar drills across Russia — from the westernmost Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad to the Pacific.
As part of the drills that began Monday, paratroopers were scrambled from their bases across Russia and airlifted to distant areas, marines practised landing on a frigid Arctic coast and air force jets flew to the Kaliningrad region sandwiched between NATO members Poland and Lithuania.
Shoigu said at a meeting with the top brass that the military has successfully conducted a quick build-up of "combat capability in the Arctic, in the Baltics and in Crimea."
The war games, which were ordered by President Vladimir Putin, include the deployment of state-of-the art Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad and long-range nuclear-capable bombers to Crimea.
The chief of the military's General Staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, on Wednesday visited a Northern Fleet submarine equipped with nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles as he oversaw the drills.
Speaking in a documentary broadcast by state television Sunday, Putin said that he told Western leaders during the Crimean crisis that he will do what it takes to defend what he views as Russia's vital interests.
He said that Russia was ready to bring its nuclear weapons into a state of alert during the tensions over Crimea. "We were ready for the most negative turn of developments," Putin said in the documentary