HONCHARIVSKE, Ukraine, March 14 (Reuters) - Ukraine’s acting president, dressed in combat fatigues as Russia’s military tightened its grip on the Crimea peninsula, said on Friday that the former Soviet republic was taking every possible measure to strengthen its military.
Oleksander Turchinov, elected by parliament as speaker last month after the removal of a Moscow-backed president last month, praised troops taking part in exercises north of Kiev, saying they were “carrying out their duties with honour”.
“Today at this training site, we saw not some sort of show, but real exercises with tank units and mobile air units essentially working in tandem,” the acting head of state and commander-in-chief told the troops during the exercises, about 150 km (90 miles) north of Kiev.
“That is the main conclusion we can make today. At the same time, we are working to strengthen our armed forces and strengthen the newly created National Guard. And I am certain that all the Ukrainian people will help us in this endeavour.”
Troops demonstrated an array of weaponry to the media, including tanks, attack helicopters and anti-aircraft and anti-tank missile systems. Similar exercises were held in other parts of the country, military officials said.
Turchinov, who took over as acting president the same day that Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovich fled Kiev last month, said on Thursday that a build-up of Russian forces on Ukraine’s eastern borders, in addition to Moscow’s military takeover of Crimea, showed Russia was “ready to invade ... at any moment”.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denied on Friday that the Kremlin had any plans to invade southeastern Ukraine. Earlier, his ministry had said Russia reserved the right to take people under its protection after clashes between demonstrators in the Russian-speaking city of Donetsk left one protester dead. (Reporting by Reuters Television; Writing by Ron Popeski; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)