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Russia flaunts military might in Crimea drills


Under a blazing sun, Sukhoi jets zoomed across the sky and dropped explosives, as Russian warships sailed right up to the shore.

And beyond on a dusty steppe, paratroopers made a mass landing while ground forces ignited a wall of fire with napalm.

This display of military might take place on Friday in Crimea as Russia showcased its ground, marine and air forces in the biggest exercises held on the strategic peninsula since its 2014 annexation from Ukraine.

"On such a scale and with the deployment of different force groupings, such drills are being held for the first time," defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told journalists.

Watching the drills at the Opuk training range on the Black Sea coast of eastern Crimea were Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and the head of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov as well as Crimean leader Sergei Aksyonov.

"This training range is the biggest on the Crimean peninsula, which allows for such exercises to be held," said Konashenkov, adding that it had been used by Russia before the peninsula’s annexation.

The Crimean drills were part of Caucasus-2016 exercises held across Russia’s southern regions with some 12,500 troops, the defence ministry said.

The drills involved warships, aircraft and tanks, with Moscow firing its S-300 missile systems, while the more advanced S-400 systems were used earlier in the Caucasus-2016 exercises that began on September 5 and reached their finale on Thursday.

"Strategic drills… are essential to military training in Russia in 2016," Konashenkov said, "with a focus on different troops working together." 

In Crimea, the exercises simulated an attempted invasion by a major force.

But Konashenkov insisted to journalists: "You should not twist this into anything – there’s no politics." 

The drill was planned last year and is not related to the current heightened tensions with the West, he said.

Nevertheless such flexing of Russia’s military muscle sent out a clear message that any real attack on Crimea will be fought off.

The drills also come about a month after President Vladimir Putin accused Kiev of sending a group of saboteurs into Crimea, saying Ukraine was "practising terror."