MOSCOW – The Russian army will form 20 new units in the west of the country this year to counter what they say is a growing threat from NATO.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made the announcement Monday at a meeting with top military officials. He pointed to an increasing number of flights by US strategic bombers near Russia’s borders, the deployment of NATO warships and increasingly frequent and massive exercises by allied forces.
He said such actions “destroyed the international security system and forced us to take countermeasures.”
“We will form another 20 units and formations in the Western Military District by the end of the year,” Shoigu said.
He added that military units in Western Russia have deployed about 2,000 new weapons this year.
Last month, a massive build-up of troops in the south and southwest of Russia near the Ukrainian border caused concern in Ukraine and the West, prompting Moscow to withdraw its forces.
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 following the ousting of the country’s Moscow – friendly president and subsequently dropped its weight among separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. More than 14,000 people have been killed in seven years of fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Russia recalled some troops from its western part after the April maneuvers, but Shoigu ordered them to leave their weapons behind for the Russian Zapad (West) 2021 military exercises in September.
He noted on Monday that the preparations for the exercises, which are being carried out with Belarus, are now in their final stages and stressed that the maneuvers “have exclusively a defensive character”.
Last week, Russia offered political alliance to its ally Belarus, which diverted a Ryanair plane flying from Greece to Lithuania, according to a dissident journalist. The European Union denounced the diversion of the flight as piracy and excluded the Belarusian flagship from its airspace and advised European airlines to promote Belarus’ airspace.
By Vladimir Isachenkov