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Russia in fresh war games as Ukraine lodges complaint

Russia has launched fresh war games involving S-300 surface-to-air missiles on its southern flank as Ukraine demanded that Moscow explain separate three-day drills close to the border.

MOSCOW: Russia has launched fresh war games involving S-300 surface-to-air missiles on its southern flank as Ukraine demanded that Moscow explain separate three-day drills close to the border.

The war games involving S-300 missiles, SU-24 attack aircraft and MiG-31 supersonic interceptor jets are taking place in the southern Astrakhan region and will end on Friday, a spokesman for the Central military district told AFP on Thursday. The goal of the drills is to repel "a massive rocket strike," the defence ministry said in a statement.

The defence ministry spokesman, who requested anonymity, said the military manoeuvres had been planned in advance, adding they were not linked to a spike in tensions with the West over Ukraine after the downing of a Malaysian passenger jet this month.

Separately, Russia's air and space defence forces will in August conduct drills involving S-300 surface-to-air missiles and their next-generation version, the S-400, as well as the Pantsir-S1 air defence systems, a spokesman said. The spokesman for the air and space defence forces, Dmitry Zenin, told AFP that troops in charge of Moscow's air defence will participate in the drills which he said had been planned a year ago.

The fresh drills - the latest in a series of high-profile military manoeuvres Russia has staged over the past few months - come as ties with the West over Ukraine have sunk to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.

Kiev on Thursday demanded that Russia explain its "military activities close to the border with Ukraine". The Ukrainian foreign ministry said it was especially concerned over "large-scale" three-day drills involving aircraft in Russia's southern Rostov and Stavropol regions.

The drills began on July 29, the Ukrainian foreign ministry said. Citing the Russian defence ministry, it said the drills involved the launch of missiles as well as fire support operations for advancing troops.

Kiev added that Russian drones kept illegally flying over the border, claiming that the transfer of sophisticated weapons including air-defence systems to Moscow-backed rebels was continuing. "Ukraine called on the Russian Federation to take urgent measures with a view to immediately halting such illegal activities," the foreign ministry said.

Kiev said it had sent Russia an official request in line with the Vienna Document 2011 on military confidence- and security-building measures to which both countries are parties.

According to the Vienna Document 2011, Russia should respond to Ukraine's request by the end of the day on August 1, the foreign ministry said. The Russian defence ministry declined to comment on the request.

Ties with the West sank to a new low earlier this month after the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 with 298 people on board over a rebel-held area of eastern Ukraine. Kiev and Washington said the airliner was shot down by a missile supplied by Russia. Russia dismissed the accusations, pointing the finger at Kiev instead.

NATO said this month it was concerned by the "increasing sophistication" and number of weapons deployed by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.

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