MOSCOW – President Vladimir Putin has scrambled thousands of troops and hundreds of warplanes across southwestern Russia for large-scale military drills intended to test the troops’ readiness amid continuing tensions with the West.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that military units were put on combat alert early Monday, marking the launch of the exercise that involves troops of the Southern Military District.

The district includes troops stationed in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, as well as forces in the North Caucasus and southwestern regions near the border with Ukraine.

Shoigu said the maneuvers will also engage airborne troops and military transport aviation, as well as the navy. He noted that the drills are intended to check the troops’ ability to respond to extremist threats and other challenges.

According to Shoigu, who spoke at a meeting with the top military brass, the war games would include redeployment of air force units to advance air bases and bombing runs at shooting ranges. The maneuvers will test the troops’ mobility, with some being deployed to areas up to 1,860 miles away, the military said.

Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said in a statement that up to 8,500 troops, 900 ground weapons, 200 warplanes and about 50 warships will be involved in the drills.

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The exercises are the latest in a series of major drills intended to strengthen the military’s readiness. They have continued despite the nation’s economic downturn.

Even though a drop in global oil prices has drained the government’s coffers and helped drive the economy into recessions, the Kremlin has continued to spend big on the military, funding the purchase of hundreds of new aircraft, tanks and missiles.

Read more at CBS News