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Putin Flexes Moscow's Muscles; Kerry Says This Isn't 'Rocky IV'

Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Ria Novosti
Russian President Vladimir Putin.

We retopped this post at 12:25 p.m. ET.

Responding to the news that Russian President Vladimir Putin has put his army on alert in what seems to be a bid to influence events in Ukraine, Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that the U.S. is "not looking for [a] confrontation" with Moscow.

And, in a reference to the Cold War days of the past when the rivalry between two superpowers would find its way into popular culture, Kerry tried to cool things down.

"This is not Rocky IV," he said, during an MSNBC interview.

Our original post — Putin Flexes Moscow's Military Muscles, Puts Army On Alert — and an earlier update pick up the story:

With nerves in the region already on edge because of the crisis in Ukraine, Russia's leader on Wednesday added this news to the unsettling mix:

"President Vladimir Putin ordered an urgent drill to test the combat readiness of the armed forces across western Russia on Wednesday, news agencies reported, flexing Moscow's military muscle amid tension with the West over Ukraine." ( Reuters)

Russia's Interfax news agency moved this alert a short time ago:

"Putin orders urgent comprehensive checks of troops' combat readiness in western and central military districts, and of aerospace, airborne troops, long-range and military transport aviation."

Interfax says the news was announced by Russia's defense minister, Sergei Shoigu.

Reuters adds this context:

"Putin has ordered several such surprise drills in various parts of Russia since he returned to the presidency in 2012, saying the military must be kept on its toes, but the geopolitical overtones could hardly have been clearer this time.

"The western district borders Ukraine, which lies between NATO nations and Russia. Shoigu said the drill would be conducted in two stages, ending on March 3, and also involved some forces in central Russia."

On Morning Edition Wednesday, NPR's Corey Flintoff talked about Russia's view of the events in Ukraine — a nation that Moscow hopes to continue to influence and where many ethnic Russians live. As Corey said, Russian leaders have accused the Ukrainian parliament of infringing on the rights of ethnic Russians and of "suppressing dissenters in various parts of Ukraine by dictatorial and sometimes even terrorist means."

Among things the Ukrainian parliament has done in recent days that have inflamed tensions with ethnic Russians: repealing a law that made Russian a second official language in areas of the nation where the Russian population is greater than 10 percent.

Russia has, of course, used its military to intervene in a neighboring state in recent years. In 2008, it sent ground troops to Georgia and used airstrikes to weigh in on the side of South Ossetian militias that were fighting Georgian forces.

Meanwhile, the search continues in Ukraine for ousted President Viktor Yanukovych and parliamentarians continue to try to put together a new government.

Update at 10:45 a.m. ET. "A Message To Kiev":

"In Crimea, historically a part of Russian territory until the Soviet Union ceded it to the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine in 1954, ethnic Russians have appealed for the Kremlin's intervention to protect the region and its population from Ukraine's opposition leaders," The New York Times notes.

Dmitri Trenin, the director of the Moscow Carnegie Center, tells the Times that the Russian army drills are "flag waving, but it's more than that also. ... It's a message to Kiev not to impose its rule in Crimea by force."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.