MOSCOW, April 24 (RIA Novosti) – Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced Thursday that Russia will conduct military drills in response to the developing situation in Ukraine’s southeast, where a special operation has targeted the country’s own citizens.
“We are forced to react to such a development in the situation,” Shoigu said.
“Starting today, exercises of battalion tactical groups from the Southern and Western military districts will begin near the borders with Ukraine,” he said.
The troops will hold marching rehearsals and exercise deployments for performing assigned tasks, the defense minister said.
Shoigu also added that “aircraft will do fly-bys close to the state border.”
Earlier Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that if Kiev has actually deployed its army in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slaviansk, then that is a serious crime against its own people.
A gunfight broke out between unidentified gunmen and local federalists near the eastern Ukrainian city of Slaviansk on Thursday. At least five people were killed as result of the crackdown.
The Security Service of Ukraine announced Wednesday that the military operation launched by Ukrainian authorities earlier this month against protesters in eastern Ukraine had again entered an active phase, following a temporary suspension after an agreement reached in Geneva last week.
Ukrainian authorities launched a special operation to crack down on pro-federalization activists in eastern regions of the country that have been swept by rallies since last month.
Protesters in Kharkiv, Donetsk, Gorlovka, Slaviansk and Kramatorsk refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the current Ukrainian government and are urging interim authorities to hold referendums similar to the one held in Crimea last month, which led to the republic’s reunification with Russia.