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Ukraine’s acting president — proudly sporting combat fatigues — praised his country’s troops Friday and pledged to build up the force as Russia shows no signs of backing down from the Crimea crisis.
Oleksander Turchynov said soldiers were “carrying out their duties with honor” as they took part in training exercises north of Kiev, Reuters reported.
“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,” said Turchynov, who became acting head of state when Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovch was ousted by parliament last month.
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.
Turchynov 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.”
Later on Friday in Kiev, he said Moscow was seeking to restore the Soviet empire by force.
“The conflict has moved to a new level: Either our new, young democracy will triumph, or a totalitarian curtain will fall on Ukraine,” Turchynov said.
Voters in Crimea — with its large ethnic Russian population — will decide Sunday whether they want to leave Ukraine to join the Russian Federation. Whatever happens, the United States says the international community will not accept the results.
— Erik Ortiz
Reuters contributed to this report.