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Russia launches military drills in the southwest

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MOSCOW (AP): Russia's military on Friday launched manoeuvres of air defence forces in the southwest of the country, the latest in a series of frequent drills amid tensions with the West.

The Southern Military District, where the exercises will take place, includes the regions bordering Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed last year. But the military didn't say exactly where the manoeuvres were being held.

The Defence Ministry said on Friday the exercises would last for more than a month and involve more than 2,000 troops and 500 weapons systems, including air defence missiles. The manoeuvres would simulate fending off massive air and missile attacks.

The West accuses Russia of backing the insurgency with troops and weapons, accusations the Kremlin denies. The Defence Ministry again rejected the latest US claims of a Russian troop presence in eastern Ukraine.

Lt Gen Ben Hodges, the commander of US Army Europe, has said earlier this week that Russia has 12,000 troops in eastern Ukraine.

Russian Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov acerbically rejected the claim on Friday. "Why 12,000 and not 20,000 or 25,000? Why go small?" he told reporters.

Antonov argued that more than 30 flights by foreign military observers over Russian territory have failed to yield any evidence to corroborate Western accusations.

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Russia  Military  Drills  
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