- - Tuesday, June 3, 2014

MOSCOW — Imagine House Speaker John A. Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and their distinguished colleagues dressed in Army fatigues and armed with various weapons and gear, undergoing military training near the nation’s capital.

It may be an odd scene, but that is precisely what 400 political leaders, lawmakers and election committee officials are doing through Thursday near Moscow.

Though Russia’s standoff with the West over Ukraine might be as good as over, Moscow apparently is taking no chances.


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The main goal of the exercises is to demonstrate the politicians’ “patriotic mood,” as well as their willingness to defend Mother Russia, according to a report in Russia’s RBK newspaper.

The Russian Defense Ministry declined to comment on the report, but several politicians confirmed their participation in the military training.

Among those taking part is 69-year-old Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, a former Soviet Red Army colonel. A spokesman for Mr. Zyuganov said the party leader welcomes such exercises and considers them part of his patriotic duty.


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Another participant is Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the 68-year-old leader of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia.

“My specialty is information warfare,” Mr. Zhirinovsky told The Washington Times. “This is a very useful skill now in light of what is going on in Ukraine, where America is supporting the fascist junta. I will be able to develop my abilities in this field at the drills.”

Other Russian politicians were equally enthusiastic.

“First of all, it’s healthy,” Mikhail Starshinov, a lawmaker with the ruling United Russia party, told the Moscow-based Kommersant newspaper. “Second, for any normal guy, it’s interesting. Basically, it’s a handgun, an automatic weapon and a grenade. Anything else is optional.”

The military exercises are personally supervised by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and involve tanks and other heavy weaponry, as well as lectures on military strategy.

On the final day, politicians and other officials will practice their sharpshooting skills with weapons reported to include World War II-era machine guns.

Russian President Vladimir Putin does not plan to attend, a Kremlin spokesman said.

Commentators in Russia have questioned the necessity of the exercises, pointing out that veteran career politicians are unlikely to be called up for military duty, even in the event of war.

Igor Bunin, director of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies, suggested that the drills are part of a Kremlin attempt to install a “fortress mentality” in the political elite and ordinary Russians.

As the exercises continue, tens of thousands of Russian troops are withdrawing from the border with Ukraine, where they have been massed for weeks amid growing East-West tensions.

As senior lawmakers spin in tanks and party leaders hit the shooting range, Russia will be carrying out more serious war games at a secret location, The Associated Press reported.

The military exercises will include the launch of high-precision Iskander surface-to-surface missiles.