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Putin Calls for Military Drill, Combat Alert in Central Russia

June 21 (Bloomberg) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin put more than 65,000 troops in the country’s central region on combat alert and ordered them to take part in a drill a day after Ukraine called a cease-fire that seeks to quell violence in the east.

The drill, which started at 11 a.m. today and is to last through June 28, will also involve 5,500 pieces of military equipment, Vladimir Anikin, a spokesman for Russia’s Defense Ministry, said by phone. The drill was announced at a ministry staff meeting today, he said.

Russia dismissed Ukraine’s declaration of a week-long cease-fire as an “ultimatum,” the Kremlin was cited as saying by the Interfax news service yesterday. Russia was increasing security because it’s concerned about the situation on the border with Ukraine, though it’s not building up troop levels, Yuri Ushakov, Putin’s foreign-policy aide, said yesterday. NATO and U.S. officials have reported a new Russian military buildup near the boundary with Ukraine.

“The fact remains that Kiev and Moscow are at daggers drawn,” Nicholas Spiro, managing director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy in London, said by e-mail. “Russia’s latest military maneuvers throw the extent of the distrust and suspicion between both sides into sharp relief.”

The dispute is flaring as American and European officials warn that more painful penalties affecting Russia’s access to financial markets, technology and military hardware may come as early as next week if Putin refuses to curb tensions over Ukraine.

Ukraine called on all fighters to lay down arms, halting the offensive against rebels from 10 p.m. yesterday until 10 a.m. on June 27, President Petro Poroshenko said on his website.

Fighting Continues

Pro-Russian militants expressed skepticism the truce will be implemented. Militants stirred fighting in at least seven different places overnight, which left nine border troops and one Russian customs official wounded, and an unspecified number of militants killed, Ukrainian authorities said today.

“A military activity with an unidentified task near Ukrainian border does not help to normalize the situation in Ukraine and to implement peaceful initiatives by the Ukrainian authorities,” the Foreign Ministry said in an e-mailed statement today.

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