Massive Crimea clashes–Red Army exercise called

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RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin has ordered an urgent military drill to test the combat readiness of the armed forces across western and central Russia.

The drill includes troops dealing with mock security and terrorist threats.

The surprise drill tests ground troops, Air Force, airborne troops and aerospace defence, according to Russia’s Defence Minister, Sergey Shoigu.

The drill is to ‘test combat readiness of troops in dealing with crisis situations that threaten the military security of the country, as well as with anti-terrorist, sanitary and epidemiological, or technogenic situations,’ Shoigu said.

The drill started at 2pm yesterday and continues until March 3rd in two stages.

The second stage involves an opposing-force exercise with the participation of Russia’s Northern and Baltic fleet and bomb strike drills.

Meanwhile, many thousands of pro-and anti-Russian demonstrators rallied in front of the parliament building in Simferpol, the capital of Ukraine’s autonomous Crimea region yesterday.

Scuffles occasionally broke out between the two sides in the face-to-face protests.

While many of the demonstrators proclaimed that the Crimea will not obey Kiev, and called for union with Russia, some of the local Crimean Tatars expressed their support for the independence of the Ukraine.

Two separate rallies, consisting of several thousands of protesters, were facing each other.

Russians were shouting ‘Russia-Russia!’ and ‘Berkut!’, the name of the special police task force disbanded yesterday by the new Ukrainian authorities.

The Tatars, who were expelled from the area by Stalin, and were only allowed to return in 1960 by Krushchev were shouting ‘Ukraine-Ukraine!’ and ‘Crimea is not Russia!’

Pro-Russian demonstrators were holding Russian flags, while Tatars were holding Ukrainian flags and flags of their own nationalist organisations.

Bottles, stones and flags flew in the air as they clashed in front of the parliament building in Simferopol, the capital of Ukraine’s autonomous Crimea region.

The parliament of the Crimea autonomous region is now deciding when to hold a session to declare the region’s official position toward the new authorities in Kiev.

The speaker of the Crimean parliament, Vladimir Konstantinov, dismissed reports in the region’s media that MPs would discuss the possible secession of the Crimea Autonomous Region from Ukraine.

The Russian rally is demanding that the Crimea autonomous region declare independence and ask for assistance from Russia.

Demonstrators from Russian-dominated Sevastopol, the largest city in Crimea, are arriving at the region’s capital Simferopol, in the centre of the Crimea peninsula, to support the thousands of Russian nationals rallying there against the new authorities in Kiev.

In the meantime, a People’s Guard is being formed in Crimea’s largest city of Sevastopol. About 3,500 people have already joined.

Authorities in Sevastopol have refused to comply with an order by the new interior minister, Arsen Avakov, to disband a detachment of the Berkut special police task force.