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Putin to Showcase Military as Drill Fuels Ukraine Tension

By Anatoly Medetsky May 9, 2014 6:16 AM GMT+0200 2 Comments Email Print

Tanks and missile systems will rumble across Red Square in Moscow today to commemorate Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in 1945 as Russia flexes its muscles in the standoff with the U.S. and its allies over Ukraine.

President Vladimir Putin, who yesterday said Russia is testing its army’s combat readiness, will make an appearance. Later today, he will probably attend a procession of warships in Crimea, the region Russia annexed from Ukraine, said Igor Dolgopolov, a spokesman for the city council of Sevastopol, the base of the country’s Black Sea Fleet on the peninsula.

The visit, along with the military showcase, may add to tension as pro-Russia separatists prepare for May 11 autonomy referendums in Ukraine’s easternmost parts. Ukrainian government forces have been battling to dislodge the insurgents who have seized more than 30 administrative buildings in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

“The situation there is so grave that a trip like this could provoke greater violence,” Tatyana Stanovaya, an analyst in Cannes, France at the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies, said by phone May 7. “The visit would appeal to Russians at home who are happy to have Crimea back in the country’s fold.”

The annexation of the peninsula triggered escalating sanctions on Russian individuals and companies by the U.S. and its allies. They’ve threatened to tighten them if Putin disrupts Ukraine’s presidential elections scheduled for May 25.

Sanctions, Parade

The European Union is preparing to extend sanctions to companies in Crimea that it alleges benefited from the takeover when the 28 member states’ foreign ministers meet May 12, though the group is still far from imposing broader economic penalties, an official from the bloc told reporters in Brussels yesterday on condition of anonymity.

Russia’s government is planning a parade in Sevastopol to mark the 70th anniversary of driving the Nazis out of the region. Apart from the warships on display, 70 Air Force jets will also fly over the city during the celebrations, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said May 6.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who attended the commemoration in Russia four years ago, said a visit by Putin to Crimea would be regrettable.

It would be “a shame if such a day were to be used to hold a parade in the context of such conflict,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin on May 6.

U.S. Reaction

As part of the military drills yesterday, Russian nuclear submarines carried out two successful ballistic-missile launches, while air-space defense forces repelled a mock nuclear strike, the state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Asked whether the tests marked a ratcheting up of tensions over Ukraine a day after Putin seemed to offer conciliatory remarks, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. didn’t see the drills or missile launches as aggressive because Russia gave the U.S. more than 24 hours notice of what she called “routine” tests as required under the New START Treaty.

Putin himself is framing this year’s commemorations in the context of the conflict in Ukraine, where the Kremlin says the unrest is driven by nationalists. Russia’s eastern neighbor is “a vivid example that irresponsible policy brings much grief and loss,” he said yesterday at a meeting with his counterparts from Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

“Belligerent nationalism is raising its head again here and there in Europe, the kind that once led to the emergence of the Nazi ideology,” he said in comments posted on the Kremlin website. “We know where we encounter this danger.”

 

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