President Vladimir Putin has scrambled thousands of troops and hundreds of warplanes across southwestern Russia for large-scale military drills intended to test the troops’ readiness amid continuing tensions with the West. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that military units were put on combat alert early Monday, marking the launch of the exercise that involves troops of the Southern Military District.

The district includes troops stationed in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, as well as forces in the North Caucasus and southwestern regions near the border with Ukraine. Shoigu said the maneuvers will also engage airborne troops and military transport aviation, as well as the navy. He noted that the drills are intended to check the troops’ ability to respond to extremist threats and other challenges. FULL REPORT