The Russian military has started further large-scale command and staff exercises near its borders with Ukraine, amid the turbulent political and security crisis in the country.
Russian Defence Ministry spokesman lieutenant colonel Evgeni Meshkov was quoted by Itar-Tass as saying that the drill involves 4,000 paratroopers from Ivanovo-based airborne division, 36 military and army aviation aircraft, in addition to an undisclosed number of combat vehicles.
"One of the key objectives of the exercise is to show how effective tactical landing force can be in different latitudes and conditions," Meshkov said, noting that the airborne troops have already reached the area of the exercise, while the military headquarters have also initiated troop control in a simulated anti-terrorist operation.
Led by Russian paratroopers commander colonel general Vladimir Shamanov, the drills are expected to include a massive simultaneous airdrop involving 3,500 servicemen for the first time in the last two decades, and will conclude on 14 March.
Russia has staged a series of military exercises in western regions in the last few weeks, including air defence drills, combat readiness snap checks, in addition to the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) during global tension over seizing control of Crimea.
The country, however, maintains that drills are not linked to the development in Crimea, a majority ethnic Russian region within the south-eastern Ukraine, which had declared independence before the March 16 vote on secession and annexation by Russia.
Around 78 of 100 Crimean lawmakers had voted in favour of adopting a declaration of independence from Ukraine, to reinforce the legal basis of the upcoming referendum, which has been denounced by Kiev, RIA Novosti reports.
Meanwhile, the Russian troops have reportedly seized a military hospital and a military base in Crimea, tightening the Russian grip in the region.
Moscow, however, has denied the reports saying that the soldiers are not Russian, but are "local militias."