Russia launches military drills on border with Ukraine

BELGRADE -- Russia has decided to launch a military exercise on the border with Ukraine, in order to "deter Kiev from using violence against its own citizens."

In this file photo, Shoigu is seen with a former member of the Ukraine's Berkut unit (Beta/AP)
In this file photo, Shoigu is seen with a former member of the Ukraine's Berkut unit (Beta/AP)

Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation Sergei Shoigu said on Thursday that Moscow was "forced to respond," RT reported.

“The order to use force against civilians has already been given, and if this military machine is not stopped, the amount of casualties will only grow,” Shoigu said, and added:

"War games by NATO in Poland and the Baltic states are not helping the normalization of the situation. We are forced to react to the situation.”

Agencies reported that armored vehicles headed toward the entrance of the town of Slavyansk, and that five people were killed.

As previously stated by the Ukrainian interior ministry, three barricades of pro-Russian separatists located at the entrance to the town were destroyed.

RT.com reported Shoigu as saying that 11,000 Ukrainian soldiers, 160 tanks, 230 armored carriers and at least 150 artillery pieces are involved in the operation against anti-Kiev activists, while he pro-Russian self-defense units number about 2,000 and have about 100 guns between them, which have mostly been taken from local police stations.

“National guard units and Right Sector extremists are fighting against the peaceful population, as well as a volunteer Donbass ‘anti-terrorist’ unit. Also security and internal forces transferred to Lugansk and Donetsk from other areas of the country are suppressing dissent,” the minister said.

He added that "Ukrainian sabotage units have been deployed near the Russian border."

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that if the Ukrainian forces indeed stormed the town, this constituted a crime committed by authorities in Kiev against their own people.