At a moment of soaring tensions over the renewed Ukraine crisis and amid accusations out of Kiev and the Biden administration that the Kremlin is saber-rattling over heightened fighting in the Donbass region, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced Tuesday the start of combat readiness checks, according to RIA.
This is expected to involve armed forces exercises across all military districts of the country, according to his statement. Typically such preparedness drills and inspections assess the ability of the military to ensure the nation's security for a potential heightened state of alert.
While this particular readiness check is being described as "planned" (as opposed to prior 'surprise' or 'snap' inspections) - there's little doubt the Pentagon and US allies will be watching very closely, given the Kremlin was this month charged with provocatively transferring some 4,000 troops to Crimea and the border region with Ukraine. This has resulted in threats and counter-threats between Moscow and Kiev, with the Russians further warning NATO not to send any Western forces into Ukraine as it would trigger a severe reaction.
Military analysis site Defence Blog has further details as follows:
The ministry described the drill as a "massive inspection", to check combat readiness on the territory of all military districts and the Northern Fleet, in the Far North, on the Kuril Islands and Kamchatka.
The tests began amid concern over Russian military activity in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
Currently there's widespread speculation and debate over just what Putin's intentions are with the latest armed forces build-up. The additional forces essentially stayed in the region following recent military exercises.
Of course, Washington hawks took it to mean nefarious imminent moves against Ukraine are in the works - or at least additional support to Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine's east. Here's where things stand as explained by Defense One, which maintains the latest maneuvers are all about "warning" and "messaging" the West in a preemptive manner:
Recent ceasefire violations by Russian-backed forces in Ukraine and reinforcements of regular troops on the Russian side of the border don’t mean Moscow is preparing a major advance or even seriously trying to move the line of conflict, Ukraine officials and experts said. But they do show Vladimir Putin’s continued efforts to exercise control over Kiev’s affairs and peel off its international support.
Over the last several weeks, unverified social media posts show Russian heavy equipment moving closer to the Ukranian border, including howitzers, advanced anti-aircraft missiles and radar, and even an advanced air assault division The moves prompted a Friday phone call between the U.S. President Joe Biden and Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky as well as calls between the U.S. State and Defense senior officials and their Ukranian counterparts.
The Russian government has called this mobilization part of routine exercises, an explanation that has failed to impress many observers. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a repeat of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Meanwhile military drills in Crimea have been ongoing...
📹 | #Russia conducts exercise in occupied #Crimea as tensions with #Ukraine continue to rise.— EHA News (@eha_news) April 5, 2021
▪️Around 200 soldiers, armored vehicles and helicopters have participated in the drills.
And a senior Ukrainian government official was cited in the same report as saying, "This is nothing but the usual Russian tactics—to escalate tension in order to gain momentum and to dissuade the West from supporting Ukraine."
The official further concluded with this caveat: "You can always expect that such a major buildup of military forces may lead to a serious escalation of hostilities provoked by Russia. But we always prefer diplomatic and political solutions."