Putin Puts Fleet on Alert for Arctic Exercises

Putin Puts Fleet on Alert for Arctic ExercisesPutin Puts Fleet on Alert for Arctic Exercises

President Vladimir Putin has ordered the Russian Navy’s Northern Fleet and paratrooper units to go on full alert as part of snap military exercises in the Arctic, RIA news agency quoted the defense minister as saying on Monday.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who is overseeing an expensive modernization of the armed forces, said Russia faced new threats to its security which obliged it to boost its military strength and capabilities.

“New challenges and threats to military security require the armed forces to further boost their military capabilities. Special attention must be paid to strategic formations in the North,” state-run RIA quoted Shoigu as saying, Reuters reported.

Tensions between Russia and the West have reached their worst level since the Cold War over the crisis in Ukraine.

The West and Kiev accuse Russia of supplying arms and soldiers to support pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine who are fighting government troops.

NATO made new allegations last week that Russia was arming the separatists in east Ukraine, where more than 6,000 people have been killed in nearly a year of fighting. Moscow has boosted its ambitions in the resource-rich Arctic region, where it shares a border with NATO member Norway, and the military is looking to boost its capabilities in the region.

The tests were due to include nearly 40,000 servicemen, 41 warships and 15 submarines, RIA reported.

  10-Day Absence

President Vladimir Putin was due to reappear in public on Monday after an unusually long 10-day absence that unleashed frenzied speculation about the whereabouts and health of the Russian strongman.

Putin is scheduled to meet with Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev in Saint Petersburg later Monday, and a Kremlin official confirmed to AFP that the meeting was on track to take place.

Putin, 62, was last seen in public on March 5 at a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

Last week he cancelled a number of scheduled events including a trip to the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan and the planned signing of an alliance agreement with the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

His unusually long absence from the public eye has unleashed a frenzy of speculation on the reasons for the absence, including that the Russian leader has once again become a father, has been deposed in a palace coup, fallen ill, had cosmetic surgery, or had died.

His spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin was in good health, dismissing the rumors as “March madness.”

Independent internet TV channel Dozhd (Rain) said on Sunday, quoting sources, said the Russian president had been knocked down by the flu and retreated to his residence on Lake Valdai in the north.

Russia this week marks the one-year anniversary of a hastily-arranged referendum in Crimea that led to Russia annexing the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine.

Putin said in a documentary broadcast Sunday that Russia was ready to put its nuclear forces on alert over Crimea.