MOSCOW - President Vladimir Putin ordered an urgent drill to test the combat readiness of the armed forces across western Russia on Wednesday, news agencies reported, flexing Moscow's military muscle amid tension with the West over Ukraine.
"In accordance with an order from the president of the Russian Federation, forces of the Western Military District were put on alert at 1400 (1000 GMT) today," Interfax quoted Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying.
Putin has ordered several such surprise drills in various parts of Russia since he returned to the presidency in 2012, saying the military must be kept on its toes, but the geopolitical overtones could hardly have been clearer this time.
The western district borders Ukraine, which lies between NATO nations and Russia. Shoigu said the drill would be conducted in two stages, ending on March 3, and also involved some forces in central Russia.
Putin has made no public comment on Ukraine since President Viktor Yanukovich was driven from power over the weekend after months of political turmoil sparked by his decision to spurn deals with the European Union and improve ties with Russia.