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Russia halts war games on NATO borders to fight coronavirus

In this Sunday, March 22, 2020 photo supplied by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, a military truck with stickers reading "From Russia with love" loads on a board of an Il-76 cargo plane in Chkalovsky military airport outside Moscow, part of an effort to send medical personnel and supplies to Italy to help the country's efforts against the coronavirus.

ALEXEI YERESHKO/RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY PRESS SERVICE VIA AP

By JAKE RUDNITSKY | Bloomberg | Published: March 23, 2020

The Russian military ended war games near its western borders as the country ramps up preventative measures to slow the spread of coronavirus.

"It's obvious that all of this is connected with preventive measures," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call Monday. "It's linked to the situation around the general fight against coronavirus."

The drills had been ordered following plans for a NATO exercise that was billed as the biggest deployment of U.S.-based troops in Europe since the Cold War. Those plans, which were shelved last week on coronavirus fears, had been regularly criticized by the Kremlin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in February that Russia would respond with reciprocal measures.

Earlier, a senior military official said Russia had halted its war games as a sign of good will toward the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

"We are trying to find common ground," Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said in an interview with Izvestia newspaper published Monday. "For example, we took the initiative to end military drills in the immediate vicinity of the Russian border with western states." Russian military planes now fly missions over the Baltic Sea with transponders turned on, he said.

The Russian military hasn't detailed its plans to battle coronavirus. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Friday no-one in the army had tested positive for the disease, and the army continues to prepare for the 75th anniversary celebrations for the end of World War II.

More than 10,000 soldiers had begun practicing near Moscow for the May 9 parade on Red Square despite a ban on public gatherings outside, Russia's Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported last Tuesday, citing unidentified people in the military.
 

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