Russia launches live-fire drill in Crimea

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Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a forum of independent regional and local mass media in St. Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday, April 28, 2015. (Alexei Druzhinin/RIA-Novosti, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

MOSCOW, March 20 (Xinhua) — Russia has launched a large-scale live-fire exercise in Crimea, a senior military official said Monday, after the West repeatedly asked Moscow to return the Black Sea peninsula to Ukraine.

The combat drill involves over 2,500 airborne troops and some 600 pieces of equipment from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and the Aerospace Forces, Airborne Forces commander Andrey Serdyukov told reporters.

Three divisions were simultaneously alerted and partially deployed to Crimea with authorized weapons and other materials, according to the commander.

Last week, Russia celebrated the third anniversary of a referendum held in Crimea, which led to the re-incorporation of the Black Sea peninsula into Russia.

But Kiev, Washington and their allies insist that Crimea remain part of Ukraine and it was “illegally” annexed by Russia.

Western countries introduced economic sanctions against Russia in 2014 over Crimea and its alleged role in the conflicts in eastern Ukraine.

“Our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control over the peninsula to Ukraine,” U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told the U.N. Security Council last month.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Sunday in response that Russia will not consider any deal on Crimea in exchange for any relaxation of Western sanctions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin “keeps the situation around Crimea” under control, Peskov said.

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