Russia paraded its firepower today as experts warned a withdrawal from the border with Ukraine was political theatre.
In a deliberate show of strength, Vladimir Putin’s forces displayed their combat readiness at sites across the vast country.
Residents in Rostov-on-Don, close to the border, witnessed “spooky lights” later identified as infrared guidance on a Russian warplane, deployed to deter attacks..
A video showed a 600-strong troop deployment from the Northern Fleet live firing in Astrakhan in southern Russia, in drills involving surface-to-air missiles.
Other footage aimed at displaying the Kremlin’s battle-ready weapons showed Tu-95 strategic missile carriers in Amur region, artillery fire from warships in the Pacific, and army drills in Leningrad region.
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Defence minister Sergei Shoigu has ordered tens of thousands of troops back to their bases by May 1 and Moscow said the troop withdrawal from Crimea, annexed from Ukraine in 2014, had begun.
But analysts fear that the precarious Ukraine border is teetering on the brink of fresh conflict and an incursion by Russia.
A similar pullback happened in 2014 before Russian-backed rebels took control of swathes of Donbass.
Eugene Magda, of the Institute of World Politics in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv said: “Russia deployed its troops too deliberately to say that it was trying to organise an invasion.
“This is a psychological technique, an element of hybrid warfare.
“The only question is what will be the scale of Russian intervention – whether it is wider than in Donbass or not.
“I think that Russia tested the reaction of the Ukrainian leadership and the West.
“This is far from the end of the act of this military-political drama, because Russia’s strategy to subjugate Ukraine has not disappeared.”
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Oleksiy Melnyk, co-director of foreign policy and security programmes at the Razumkov Centre in Ukraine, said only 10% of the total 100,000 troops were actually leaving.
“This does not mean that we can exhale,” he warned.
Meanwhile Russia claimed to have turned away an American spy plane from its state border amid increasing tensions.
Footage from a Mig-31 showed it intercepting a US air force RC-135
reconnaissance aircraft off the Pacific coast of Russia.
And the US in turn said it scrambled jets to escort a Russian Tupolev Tu-142 anti-submarine aircraft as they made a routine flight across the Pacific.
Russia ‘most acute threat’ to UK security
Russia remains the “most acute threat to the UK’s national and collective security”, the director of GCHQ has arned.
Spy agency chief Jeremy Fleming said the movement of significant technology leadership to countries like Russia and China is causing a conflict of interests and values for the west.
The director called out both countries for misusing the internet and other communication tools intended to bring society together to instead “fuel division, exploit vulnerable people and peddle extreme views”.
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