Russia displays military might in Crimea in Military exercise
OPUK (APP) - Under a blazing sun, Sukhoi jets zoomed across the sky and dropped explosives, as Russian warships sailed right up to the shore.
And beyond on a dusty steppe, paratroopers made a mass landing while ground forces ignited a wall of fire with napalm.
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This display of military might took place Friday in Crimea as Russia showcased its ground, marine and air forces in the biggest exercises held on the strategic peninsula since its 2014 annexation from Ukraine.
"On such a scale and with the deployment of different force groupings, such drills are being held for the first time," defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told journalists.
Watching the drills at the Opuk training range on the Black Sea coast of eastern Crimea were Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and the head of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov as well as Crimean leader Sergei Aksyonov.
"This training range is the biggest on the Crimean peninsula, which allows for such exercises to be held," said Konashenkov, adding that it had been used by Russia before the peninsula's annexation.
The drills involved warships, aircraft and tanks, with Moscow firing its S-300 missile systems, while the more advanced S-400 systems were used earlier in the Caucasus-2016 exercises that began on September 5 and reached their finale on Friday.
In Crimea, the exercises simulated an attempted invasion by a major force.
But Konashenkov insisted to journalists: "You should not twist this into anything -- there's no politics."
The drill was planned last year and is not related to the current heightened tensions with the West, he said.
The drills also come about a month after President Vladimir Putin accused Kiev of sending a group of saboteurs into Crimea, saying Ukraine was "practising terror."
Two Russian officers were killed in clashes on the frontier but Ukraine denied any involvement.
"The troops really are training here to make sure that everything is guaranteed -- security is ensured," Konashenkov said.
"Crimea is protected now, it was protected yesterday and it was protected a year ago," he stressed.
"Crimea is part of Russia and the country protects it like any other region."
During Caucasus-2016, "the troops were set the task to fight off every kind of aggression," the defence ministry spokesman said, adding the drills included blocking and disarming illegal rebel groups.
The drills also worked on manoeuvres learnt in Syria, he said, including creating artificial ridges to allow troops to move around in a flat landscape.