MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian forces in the breakaway Moldovan region of Transdniestria that borders Ukraine held military drills to practice covert movements and firing grenade launchers, Russia’s Ministry of Defence said on Tuesday.
The drills took place against the backdrop of a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine and a surge of military activity that has put the West on edge and stirred fears Moscow plans to attack. Russia denies any such plan.
The focus of those concerns are deployments in Western Russia, annexed Crimea and Belarus where Moscow and Minsk plan to hold joint drills. Kyiv has also raised concerns over Transdniestria where Russia has more than 1,000 troops and peacekeepers.
Ukrainian military intelligence accused Russian security services last month of readying some kind of unspecified “provocation” against Russian servicemen in the region that would allow Moscow to level accusations at Ukraine.
Russia denies any threatening behaviour.
On Tuesday, it said its contingent known as the Operational Group of Russian Forces practiced firing at targets that imitated advancing infantry and hardware. The forces also practiced taking up firing positions, it said.
The Operational Group includes around 450 peacekeepers as well as around 500-750 soldiers guarding an ammunition depot.
Russian peacekeepers appeared in the separatist region of Transdniestria after it fought a brief war with Moldova in 1992 and declared itself an independent state. It remains unrecognised by any country, including Russia.
The Russian-speakers of Transdniestria nominally seceded from Moldova in 1990, one year before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, fearing the country might shortly merge with Romania, whose language and culture it broadly shares.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Alexander Tanas; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)