MOSCOW -- Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday ordered military forces in the country's east to carry out a major exercise to test their preparedness, a day after announcing a push to develop new offensive weapons.
This is a second major drill of combat readiness since June when the conflict in eastern Ukraine was already raging. The previous drill in the Volga region and the Urals involved 65,000 troops. In May, Russia and China held a joint naval exercise in the East China Sea.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on state television on Thursday that the "combat alert" in the eastern military district, which encompasses eastern-most territories including those bordering on China and Japan, was issued at 10 a.m. Moscow time, or 0600 GMT.
Russia news agencies later quoted Shoigu as saying that the seven-day drill will test the defense of Russia's sea border. As part of the exercise Russia's Pacific fleet will repel the enemy's naval attack.
Putin on Wednesday accused the West of using the Ukraine crisis to reinvigorate NATO, and said Moscow will ponder a response to the alliance's decision to create a rapid-reaction "spearhead" force to protect Eastern Europe.
Russia is developing an array of new nuclear and conventional weapons to counter recent moves by the U.S. and NATO, but will carefully weigh the costs to avoid overburdening its economy, President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday.
Addressing a Kremlin meeting on weapons modernization plans, Putin said the West shouldn't be surprised about Moscow's efforts in view of U.S. missile defense plans and other decisions he said have threatened Russia's security.
"We have warned many times that we would have to take corresponding countermeasures to ensure our security," Putin said, adding that he would now take personal charge of the government commission that oversees military industries.
He said the weapons modernization program for 2016-2025 should focus on building a new array of offensive weapons to provide a "guaranteed nuclear deterrent," re-arming strategic and long-range aviation, creating an aerospace defense system and developing high-precision conventional weapons.
Putin wouldn't provide any details of prospective weapons, but he and other officials have repeatedly boasted about new Russian nuclear missiles' capability to penetrate any prospective missile shield.