In this handout photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu speaks during a meeting with hight level military officials in Moscow, Russia, Monday, May 31, 2021. Russia's defense minister says that that the military will form 20 new units in the country's west this year to counter what he described as a growing threat from NATO. Sergei Shoigu on Monday pointed at a growing number of flights by U.S. strategic bombers, deployments of NATO warships near Russia's borders and increasing drills by the alliance's force. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Russia to form 20 new military units in west to counter NATO

MOSCOW (AP) — The Russian military will form 20 new units in the country’s west this year to counter what it claims is a growing threat from NATO.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made the announcement Monday at a meeting with top military officials. He pointed to a growing number of flights by U.S. strategic bombers near Russia’s borders, deployments of NATO warships and increasingly frequent and massive drills by alliance forces.

He charged that such actions “destroy the international security system and force us to take the relevant countermeasures.”

“We will form another 20 units and formations in the Western Military District until the year’s end,” Shoigu said

He added the military units in Western Russia have commissioned about 2,000 new pieces of weaponry this year.

Last month, a massive troop buildup in Russia’s south and southwest near the Ukrainian border raised concerns in Ukraine and the West, which urged Moscow to withdraw its forces.

Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 following the ouster of the country’s Moscow-friendly president and then threw its weight behind separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. More than 14,000 people have been killed in seven years of fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Russia has recalled some troops from its western part after sweeping maneuvers in April, but Shoigu ordered them to leave their weapons behind for Russia’s Zapad (West) 2021 military exercises in September.

He noted Monday that preparations for the exercises, which will be conducted jointly with Belarus, are now in their final stage and emphasized that the maneuvers have an “exclusively defensive character.”

Last week, Russia offered political support to its ally Belarus, which diverted a Ryanair plane flying from Greece to Lithuania on a ruse to arrest a dissident journalist. The European Union denounced the flight’s diversion as piracy and responded by barring the Belarusian flag carrier from its airspace and advising European airlines to skirt Belarus’ airspace.

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