SOFIA/MOSCOW: Ukraine has joined two weeks of multinational military exercises that involve troops from 12 NATO member and partner nations, and demonstrate that cooperation continues between the alliance and the crisis-torn former Soviet republic.
The drills, dubbed Saber Guardian, began Friday at the Novo Selo training facility in eastern Bulgaria and will include some 700 troops from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine and the United States, as well as representatives from NATO.
The exercise, planned before the current East-West standoff over Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, is aimed at increasing regional flexibility, preserving and enhancing NATO interoperability, and facilitating multinational training, US Army Europe spokesman Jesse Granger said.
It follows joint exercises by US, Romanian and Bulgarian naval forces in the Black Sea.
Putin signs laws to complete formality
President Vladimir Putin signed legislation on Friday that completed the process of absorbing Crimea into Russia, defying Western leaders who say the Black Sea peninsula remains part of Ukraine.
In a Kremlin ceremony shown live on television, Putin signed a law on ratification of a treaty making Crimea part of Russia, as well as legislation creating two new Russian administrative districts: Crimea and the port city of Sevastopol.
Loyal lawmakers had rushed the legislation through both houses of Parliament after Putin signed the treaty on Tuesday during a more elaborate Kremlin ceremony anchored by a fiercely patriotic speech. Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which has a narrow ethnic Russian majority and was given to Ukraine by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev 60 years ago, has touched off the biggest East-West crisis since the Cold War.
Kremlin: No further retaliation against US
There is no need for Russia to further retaliate against US sanctions, President Vladimir Putin said Friday as Russia’s upper house of Parliament endorsed the annexation of Crimea.
Moscow made its first retaliatory shot on Thursday by banning nine US officials and lawmakers from entering Russia, but Putin indicated that Russia would likely refrain from curtailing cooperation in areas such as Afghanistan.
US President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered a second round of sanctions against nearly two dozen members of Putin’s inner circle and a major bank supporting them.
International rating agencies downgraded Russia’s outlook, and Russian stock plummeted Friday.