Russia stages show of force near Ukraine with launch of Crimean exercises

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MOSCOW, April 22 (Reuters) - Russia launched major military exercises in Crimea on Thursday under the personal supervision of Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu as part of a show of force on Ukraine's southern border that has prompted intense concern in Kyiv and the West.

The defence ministry said Shoigu flew by helicopter over the areas where troops and military equipment are deployed, and checked the readiness of the naval and ground forces.

Interfax news agency said the exercises would involve more than 10,000 soldiers and more than 40 warships.

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In Moscow, the Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin was aware of an invitation from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to meet to discuss the crisis.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu attends Russian President Vladimir Putin's annual address to the Federal Assembly in Moscow, Russia April 21, 2021. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS

"If the president considers it necessary, he will reply himself. I have nothing to say on that now," spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

The concentration of forces in Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014, is part of a much bigger deployment of Russian troops.

The EU's top diplomat said on Monday that Russia has massed some 100,000 troops near the border.

Earlier on Thursday, Ukraine's foreign minister urged Western allies to show they were prepared to punish Moscow with new sanctions, including kicking Russia out of the global SWIFT bank payments system, to deter the Kremlin from resorting to more military force. read more

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Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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