- The Washington Times - Friday, March 29, 2013

Russian President Vladimir Putin helicoptered in to the Black Sea town of Anapa Friday — personally overseeing the large-scale surprise military exercise he ordered there.

Mr. Putin was accompanied by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who had been ordered at 4 a.m. Thursday to launch the no-notice drill, Radio Free Europe (RFE) reported. Mr. Putin issued the order while en route home from South Africa, and neighboring countries were not informed, which provoked some initial alarm.

“Over 7,100 troops, around 250 armored vehicles, some 50 cannons, up to 20 fighter jets and helicopters, and about 30 various warships” were involved in the exercise, said Defense Ministry press secretary Igor Konashenkov, according to Russia Today.

The exercises would include a beach landing at an area on the Caucasus coast, RFE reported.

“The training partly involves Air Forces, rapid deployment paratrooper divisions, Marines, special forces of the Intelligence Service of Russia’s General staff,” presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov said, according to Russia Today.

He added that at least three insertions of airborne troops are planned during the exercises.

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The number of troops involved was just below the threshold triggering a requirement for Russia to give its neighbors advance warning, Mr. Peskov said, and the drill provoked some concerns among the neighbors.

“We will be watching these exercises very closely as Georgia has its own experience with Russia,” Tedo Japaridze, head of the Georgian parliament’s foreign relations committee, told Reuters news agency.

Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, based in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol, was a key military asset in Moscow’s brief 2008 war with Georgia over Tbilisi’s claim on the Russian-backed breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Russian news agency Itar-Tass quoted a Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman as saying Ukraine had been informed in advance.

In addition to Georgia and Ukraine, Russia shares the Black Sea with Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania.

A NATO official told Reuters the Western alliance was not given notice and that “exercises are part of what the military do. NATO also conducts regular military exercises, which are not directed at anyone.”

“The exercises’ main objective is to assess combat readiness and coordination among the various branches of the Armed Forces,” according to statement on Mr. Putin’s official website.

The move follows the inability of several Russian military units to mobilize and deploy quickly when they received a surprise command for exercises in February, RFE reported.

The combined arms exercises in the Black Sea coincided with a “huge” long-range strategic aviation drill by the Russian Air Force, Russia Today reported. A range of aircraft, including the supersonic Tu-160, Tu-95MC, Tu-22M3, Ilyushin in-flight refueling tankers, A-50 AWACS aircrafts, Su-27 fighter jets and supersonic MiG-31 interceptors conducted more than 60 missions at three ranges in various regions of the country.

• Shaun Waterman can be reached at swaterman@washingtontimes.com.

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