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95,000 Russian troops in massive military drill
by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) Sept 14, 2015

Poroshenko asks for 'defensive weapons' against rebels
Berlin (AFP) Sept 14, 2015 - Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko stressed Monday his wish for "defence weapons" from Western allies to help in the conflict against pro-Russian separatists.

Ukraine needed support "not just with words", he said in an interview with Germany's conservative Die Welt daily, mentioning the need for defensive weapons.

"We are not just defending our country, we are defending freedom and democracy," Poroshenko said.

"We are fighting with 20th century weapons against weapons from the 21st century. And Russia's military budget is 30 to 45 times as big as ours."

Kiev and the West accuse Russia of sending regular troops and weapons to aid separatists in the east, where nearly 8,000 people have died in the conflict since April 2014. Moscow has always denied involvement.

Kiev's goal was to build up a working military deterrence, said Poroshenko.

Germany and other countries have rejected weapons shipments, fearing it would escalate the fighting.

In the conflict zone, a total ceasefire was announced starting September 1, and so far appears to be holding.

The foreign ministers of Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France met in Berlin last Saturday to prepare for a summit in Paris on October 2.

Germany's top diplomat, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said the meeting had been "less confrontational" than previous ones and that the warring sides were now "very close" to an agreement on withdrawing heavy weapons from the frontline.

Russia on Monday launched its largest military exercises of the year, Centre-2015, involving some 95,000 soldiers including ground troops, navy and airforce units.

The long-announced war games are "the most large-scale drill of 2015," the defence ministry said.

Russia has recently intensified snap checks of its military might, testing its capabilities from the Arctic to the Far East as relations with the West have plunged to a post-Cold War low over the Ukraine crisis.

Centre-2015 takes place at 20 sites across Russia's central military district, which reaches from the Volga River to the Ural mountains and Siberia in the east, while also including far northern Russia.

Troops from member states of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), made up of several ex-Soviet countries, are also involved in the exercise.

The defence ministry said the war games are aimed at testing the readiness of the military of the CSTO countries to "manage coalition groups of troops in containing an international armed conflict."

The troops will simulate "blocking and destroying illegal armed formations during joint special operations," the ministry said.

The drill begins as leaders are to arrive in Tajikistan for a summit of the CSTO that starts Tuesday.

The exercises running to September 20 include 20 naval ships and up to 170 aircraft, the defence ministry said.

President Vladimir Putin will observe the drills during one of the days, Russian daily Izvestia reported last week, without giving details.

The main action will take place in the Urals, in the Siberian Altai region and in the southern Astrakhan region and the Caspian Sea, the commander of troops in Russia's central military district, Vladimir Zarudnitsky told journalists, quoted by Interfax news agency.

In European Russia, 12,000 troops will take part in drills at military ranges in the Urals region close to Kazakhstan involving around 90 tanks as well as 20 artillery and rocket launcher systems.

Kazakh troops will also take part and a military delegation from Nicaragua will act as monitors, Zarudnitsky added.

Poland agrees military cooperation with non-NATO Sweden
Warsaw (AFP) Sept 14, 2015 - NATO member Poland on Monday signed a deal on military cooperation with non-member Sweden amid concerns raised by increased Russian military activity in the Baltic.

"Once a sea of peace, the Baltic has become a sea of danger," Polish Defence Minister Tomasz Siemoniak told reporters at a joint press conference in Warsaw with Swedish counterpart Peter Hultqvist.

Hultqvist said the increased presence of Russian warships and warplanes in the Baltic Sea had prompted Stockholm to take "two strategic decisions".

One was to boost defence spending by 11 percent over five year, and the other was to reinforce cooperation with NATO as a whole, as well as with its individual members.

Sweden's foreign ministry on Friday summoned Russia's ambassador after Moscow threatened "retaliatory measures" if the Scandinavian country joined NATO.

The increased tensions come on the heels of Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and backing of separatist forces in the country's east.

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