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Ukraine says missile tests will avoid Crimea, mollifying Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during his annual state of the nation address at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, December 1, 2016

Ukraine’s military said its two-day missile drill starting on Thursday would avoid the airspace over Crimea, sidestepping a possible confrontation with Russia which annexed the peninsula in 2014.

News of the tests had angered the Kremlin, prompting it to put its air defence forces on high alert and manoeuvre warships in the Black Sea.

The disagreement marked a fresh escalation in tensions between the neighbours and one-time allies, whose relations collapsed after Russia seized Crimea and backed pro-Russian separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Volodymyr Kryzhanovsky, a Ukrainian military official, said the exercises, which are taking place in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region bordering Crimea, were being carried out in accordance with international law.

The exercises were taking place at least 30 km (18 miles) from Crimea‘s air space, “therefore it would be wrong to reproach Ukraine,” he told the 112 TV channel.

Moscow initially responded to the test plans by putting its land-based and ship-borne air defence forces in Crimea on higher alert and a Russian military source accused Ukraine of trying to create a “nervous situation.”

On Thursday Russia’s federal aviation agency, Rosaviatsia, said in a statement that it had received new coordinates for the tests that meant the “danger zone reserved for missile launches does not now affect the air space over Russian territorial waters.”

Ukraine says the aim of the tests is to bolster its defence capabilities.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday that he did not know whether President Vladimir Putin had ordered the defence ministry to prepare a potential military response to the Ukrainian tests.

He was responding to a question about Ukrainian media reports which said that the Russian Defence Ministry had told Ukraine’s military envoy that Moscow would shoot down any missiles and destroy their launchers if Kiev test-fired missiles in the air space near Crimea.

“In the Kremlin we wouldn’t want to see any actions by the Ukrainian side that breached international law and that might create dangerous conditions for international flights over the territory of Russia and adjacent regions,” said Peskov.

Kryzhanovsky said the Ukrainian military was ready for “any developments”.

Russia held large-scale war games across its southern military district in September, includingCrimea.

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