St Basil's Cathedral in the red square on in Moscow, Russia 280618 CREDIT PA
Russia

Russia To Form 20 New Military Units In West To Counter NATO

Military units in Western Russia have also commissioned about 2,000 new pieces of weaponry this year.

St Basil's Cathedral in the red square on in Moscow, Russia 280618 CREDIT PA

The Russian military will form 20 new units in the country's west this year to counter what it claims is a growing threat from NATO.

Defence minister Sergei Shoigu made the announcement at a meeting with top military officials, citing a growing number of flights by US strategic bombers near Russia's borders, deployments of NATO warships and increasingly frequent and massive drills by alliance forces.

He charged that such actions "destroy the international security system and force us to take the relevant countermeasures".

"We will form another 20 units and formations in the Western Military District until the year's end," Mr Shoigu said.

He added the military units in Western Russia have commissioned about 2,000 new pieces of weaponry this year.

Last month, a massive troop build-up in Russia's south and south-west near the Ukrainian border raised concerns in Ukraine and the West, which urged Moscow to withdraw its forces.

Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 following the ousting of the country's Moscow-friendly president and then threw its weight behind separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

More than 14,000 people have been killed in seven years of fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Russia has recalled some troops from its western part after sweeping manoeuvres in April, but Mr Shoigu ordered them to leave their weapons behind for Russia's Zapad (West) 2021 military exercises in September.

He noted that preparations for the exercises, which will be conducted jointly with Belarus, are now in their final stage and emphasised that the manoeuvres have an "exclusively defensive character".

Last week, Russia offered political support to its ally Belarus, which diverted a Ryanair plane flying from Greece to Lithuania on a ruse to arrest a dissident journalist.

The European Union denounced the flight's diversion as piracy and responded by barring the Belarusian flag carrier from its airspace and advising European airlines to skirt Belarus's airspace.

Cover image: Moscow's Red Square (Picture: PA).