* Ukrainian military exercises held in several areas
* Turchinov sees no Russian sign of peaceful solution
(Adds further Turchinov comments)
HONCHARIVSKE, Ukraine, March 14 Ukraine's acting
president, dressed in combat fatigues as Russia's military
tightened its grip on the Crimea peninsula, said on Friday the
former Soviet republic was taking every possible measure to
strengthen its military.
Oleksander Turchinov, elected by parliament as speaker last
month after the removal of a Moscow-backed president, praised
troops taking part in exercises north of Kiev, saying they were
"carrying out their duties with honour".
"Today at this training site, we saw not some sort of show,
but real exercises with tank units and mobile air units
essentially working in tandem," the acting head of state and
commander-in-chief told the troops during the exercises, about
150 km (90 miles) north of Kiev.
"That is the main conclusion we can make today. At the same
time, we are working to strengthen our armed forces and
strengthen the newly created National Guard. And I am certain
that all the Ukrainian people will help us in this endeavour."
Troops demonstrated an array of weaponry to the media,
including tanks, attack helicopters and anti-aircraft and
anti-tank missile systems. Similar exercises were held in other
parts of the country, military officials said.
Turchinov, who took over as acting president the same day
that Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovich fled Kiev last month, said
on Thursday that a build-up of Russian forces on Ukraine's
eastern borders, in addition to Moscow's military takeover of
Crimea, showed Russia was "ready to invade ... at any moment".
Later on Friday in Kiev, he said Moscow was seeking to
restore the Soviet empire by force: "The conflict has moved to a
new level - either our new, young democracy will triumph, or a
totalitarian curtain will fall on Ukraine."
Meeting visiting U.S. senator John McCain, Turchinov said it
was important Moscow's action met resistance: "Unfortunately,
Russia has given not a single signal that a peaceful solution to
the conflict is possible.
"Without having any motivation, the Russian authorities will
not stop deploying aggression in Crimea and will not pull their
troops from the eastern borders of Ukraine," he said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denied on Friday that
the Kremlin had any plans to invade southeastern Ukraine.
Earlier, his ministry had said Russia reserved the right to take
people under its protection after clashes between demonstrators
in the Russian-speaking city of Donetsk left one protester dead.
(Reporting by Reuters Television; Writing by Ron Popeski and
Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Tom Heneghan)