MOSCOW - Russia has deployed a new battalion of its advanced S-400 air defense missile system on the Crimean Peninsula amid a standoff with Ukraine.
Russia's TASS news agency, citing a spokesman for the country's Black Sea Fleet, announced the news on Thursday, adding that the air-to-air missile systems had been deployed in Djankoy in northern Crimea.
Ties between Moscow and the rest of Europe have deteriorated since 2014, when Crimea rejoined Russia.
The rejoining of Crimea to Russia came following deep political changes in Kiev where a pro-Western movement staged weeks of street protests that led to the ouster of the pro-Russia government.
People in Crimea and in the industrial eastern territories of Ukraine, areas which are dominated by ethnic Russians, effectively refused to endorse the new administration in Kiev. Crimea decided to rejoin Russia in a referendum in March 2014 and two provinces in the east revolted by establishing self-declared republics.
Pro-Russians have turned the two regions of Donetsk and Lugansk in the east – collectively known as the Donbass – into self-proclaimed republics.
The West and Kiev lambast the reunification as annexation of the territory by Russia, accusing Moscow of having a hand in the bloody conflict in eastern Ukraine. Moscow, however, strongly dismisses both accusations.
On Wednesday, RIA Novosti news agency reported that the new S-400 missile systems would be operational by the end of the year. Footage released on Wednesday showed the new missiles participating in drills at the Kapustin Yar test range in Astrakhan region.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the S-400 systems practiced destroying low-flying, high-speed, highly maneuverable targets, relocating after completing combat missions, countering diversion groups, and moving through contaminated areas.
On Sunday, Russia's naval forces intercepted and seized three Ukrainian vessels after they illegally entered Russian waters off the coast of Crimea in the Sea of Azov, further complicating the already strained Moscow-Kiev relations.
The Kremlin has said the seizure of the ships and their crews was lawful because they were trespassing, a charge Ukraine strongly rejects.
Still, that development set off an international dispute in which Kiev and its Western allies have accused Moscow of trying to assert dominion in the Sea of Azov.
Poroshenko claims Putin wants to annex Ukraine
Additionally on Thursday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of allegedly seeking to annex entire Ukraine.
The Ukrainian leader made the comment in interviews with German Bild newspaper and the Funke newspaper group, inviting German Chancellor Angel Merkel to come to Kiev's aid in the crisis.
"Putin wants the old Russian Empire back; Crimea, Donbass, the whole country. As a Russian Tsar, as he sees himself, his empire can't function without Ukraine. He sees us as his colony," Poroshenko further alleged.
Poroshenko also called for the deployment of NATO warships in the Sea of Azov.