Putin’s Military Exercise Reflects Political Tensions Over Ukraine

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With Ukraine in a transitional state following the departure of it’s former President, Viktor Yanukovych, it finds itself in a precarious post-protest situation. While the EU and the United States have been openly positive regarding the steps being taken towards a stable Ukrainian government and constitution, Russia has been quiet on the matter. President Vladimir Putin has so far chosen not to officially recognize Ukraine’s new government as legitimate, but instead has organized an unexpected military exercise of its ground forces in western Russia and its air force nationwide. According to the New York Times, the exercise will continue until March 3, and is meant to exhibit the military strength during a difficult political time with friction between Russia and the U.S. and Europe.

According to the Times, Russia’s Minister of Defense, Sergei K. Shoigu, made a statement in which he said that the test of military forces is being done in order to examine the capability of Russia’s military in the face of a “crisis situation” that could involve anything from a terrorist attack to a biological or chemical weapon. But the historical relationship between Russia and Ukraine make the proximity and timing of the activity unlikely to be coincidental. According to the Telegraph, Moscow has criticized Ukraine’s treatment of Yanukovych, who had close ties with Putin, but Sergei Lavrov — the Foreign Minister of Russia — said that its “policy of non-intervention” remains in place.

A former British Army Commander spoke with the Telegraph, saying that Russia “wouldn’t have done it now unless they wanted to have a political effect. If they had a planned exercise at this time in that command they would have cancelled it — if they wanted to de-escalate the situation. The converses is obviously true.”

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns spoke Wednesday in a press conference on the issue of Russian interference in Ukraine. “We strongly support Ukraine’s territorial integrity and its unity. That is deeply in the interest not just of Ukrainians, but in our view, of the entire international community, including Russia,” he said.

Objectively, it seems to me to be very much in the interests of both Ukraine and Russia to have a healthy economic relationship, and also over time to build a stable and healthy political relationship,” said Burns, going on to discuss the economic and social challenges that face Ukraine, as well as the need to obtain solid leadership that can read all regions of the nation — highlighting the east/west division that has become a concern.

Crimea, an area of Ukraine that was historically part of Russia, is creating further political turmoil, as some Crimeans who stem from Russia are against the new opposition government called on Russia to intervene on their behalf. “I think it is flag waving, but it’s more than that also,” said Dmitri Trenin, head of the Moscow Carnegie Center, to the New York Times. “It’s a message to Kiev not to impose its rule in Crimea by force.”

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