الأربعاء , يونيو 17 2020

Absent Putin ‘orders Arctic alert’

Russian warship Pyotr Veliky in Severomorsk - file picThe warship Pyotr Veliky in Severomorsk – a key Arctic naval base

President Vladimir Putin has put Russia’s navy on a state of full combat readiness in the Arctic as part of major military drills, reports say.

The announcement came amid intense speculation over Mr Putin’s health and whereabouts, as he has not been seen in public since 5 March.

He is scheduled to meet the President of Kyrgyzstan, Almazbek Atambayev, in St Petersburg shortly.

Russia says the navy drills involve 56 warships, planes and 38,000 personnel.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, quoted by RIA Novosti news agency, said the Northern Fleet, airborne units and armoured units of the Western military district were taking part.

The drills come amid heightened tensions with Nato over Russia’s military involvement in eastern Ukraine, where an uneasy truce is in place between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government troops.

Nato has sent extra forces to the three Baltic states, which have large Russian minorities and were ruled from Moscow in the Cold War.

A spokesman for President Putin has denied rumours that he is unwell – rumours that started after a trip to Kazakhstan, scheduled for Thursday and Friday, was postponed.

Mr Putin’s last public appearance was on 5 March when he met Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

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