Ukraine has begun two days of missile tests near Crimea in a move that has infuriated Russia in a fresh escalation of tensions between the two countries.
Relations between the one-time allies collapsed in 2014 when Russia seized Crimea and backed pro-Russian separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine said the aim of the tests is to bolster its defence capabilities and test S-300 medium-range surface-to-air missiles.
Russia has responded to Ukrainian missile tests by putting its air defence forces on high alert and deploying warships in the Black Sea
Vladimir Kryzhanovsky, the head of the Ukrainian military’s southern branch press-service, said: ‘The purpose of the exercise is to gain experience in using these anti-aircraft missile systems and to check the quality of the rockets, which were repaired, as well as to improve the skills of the anti-aircraft missile troop units.’
He added: ‘The tests are being carried out in accordance with international law. Therefore it would be wrong to reproach Ukraine.’
The move has angered Russia, which as put its air defence forces on high alert and deployed warships in the Black Sea.
A Crimean military source told the RIA news agency: ‘The ships’ air defence units have been put on a higher state of alert.
‘Together with land-based air defence units on the peninsula, the ships have thrown up a practically impenetrable shield against the enemy’s rockets.’
Another source accused Ukraine of trying to create a ‘nervous situation.’
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (front centre) and his then defence minister Sergei Shoigu (front left) walk to watch military exercises upon his arrival at the Kirillovsky firing ground in the Leningrad region, on March 3, 2014
The latest development comes after it emerged Vladimir Putin has deployed 55,000 troops on the Ukrainian border in Russia’s latest muscle-flexing exercise.
The sudden influx of feet on the ground adds to up to 7,500 Russian soldiers already stationed in Ukraine and has prompted fears of an invasion.
Putin’s deputy defence minister Ihor Dolhov made the announcement in Kiev, where officials are said to be convinced Russia is attempting to topple the government.
Dolhov told Russian news outlet Liga.net at a press conference: ‘Currently, Russia has amassed about 55,000 servicemen near the Ukrainian border.
‘The presence of the Russian regular army on the territory of Ukraine varies from 5,000 to 7,500 soldiers.
‘In Crimea, this figure is 23,000 troops, of which 9,000 are on the administrative border.’
There have also been reports of another build-up of soldiers in Belarus near the Ukrainian border, according to Unian.
The Russian Defense Ministry previously announced plans to send 80 times more soldiers and military equipment to Belarus in 2017 than in 2016.
Russia occupied the Autonomous Republic of Crimea in 2014, the same year it launched a number of condemned attacks on the Ukraine.
There is ongoing fighting in the Donbass region as Russian separatists backed by the Kremin remain at loggerheads with the Ukrainian army in the Donetsk People’s Republic.
The fear is Russia will invade so it can take power of the land linking the mainland with Crimea where Ukraine believes Putin would set up an administration to bolster Moscow and shun the West.
MORE WOE FOR RUSSIA’S ADMIRAL KUZNETSOV
Most of the planes on board the Admiral Kuznetsov have had to fly to an airbase in Syria after failing to launch from the sea.
A defence source told The Times the lack of catapult system on board Russia’s only aircraft carrier last left pilots unable to operate from it.
As a result, they have had to take off using a specially built ramp with fewer weapons and less fuel.
It is the latest catastrophe for the warship on its well documented voyage through the English Channel to the Mediterranean.
In Moscow, the vessel, launched 31 years ago in the Soviet era, is seen as ‘the most problematic ship in the Navy’.
After this voyage it is set for major repairs because it cannot hit top speed – leading to serious limitation for the aircraft.
A recent report on the state of the ship highlighted ‘violations of discipline’ among a crew that rarely go to sea, but emphasised: ‘The main problem of the Kuznetsov remains in its power plant.
‘It is kept running only with the help of ‘cannibalism’ – when the necessary parts are taken from 956 class ships which use similar equipment,’ said the report on Lenta.ru.
Far from being an icon of Putin’s power, Russian observers see the ageing the vessel as a symbol of the lack of naval planning since the end of Soviet times.
‘Numerous repairs in 1994-95, 1996-98, 2001-04 and 2008 could not improve the situation, mainly due to lack of financial investment,’ one report stated.
The aircraft carriers chequered history is highlighted by the fact it has changed names four times.
Fiercely armed and weighing 55,000 tons, the 31-year-old Kuznetsov may appear formidable, but experts say it is in ‘very poor material condition’.
The vessel – which is 1,000ft long and has a top speed of 29 knots – is powered by boilers that are so unreliable it is accompanied by a large ocean-going tug whenever it deploys in case it breaks down.
Embarrassingly for the Kremlin, the ship was in such poor condition during its Mediterranean deployment in 2011 that the US navy kept a close watch on it in case it sank.
One sailor was killed when a fire started on board in 2009.
The Kuznetsov’s plumbing is so bad that many of its toilets cannot be used.
Flaws in the piping system mean it freezes during winter. To prevent pipes bursting, the water is turned off to most of the cabins – to the annoyance of its 1,690-man crew.
The ship, which will be retired by 2020, spilled hundreds of tons of oil in the Irish Sea during a refuelling accident seven years ago.
Source: | This article originally belongs to Dailymail.co.uk