This map helps put Russia’s military moves near Ukraine in perspective

The surprise announcement that the Russian military would begin large-scale drills so soon after Ukraine ousted Kremlin-ally Viktor Yanukovych may well seem ominous. In the recent past, Russia has shown itself willing to intervene in situations along its borders: It was less than six years ago that Russia and Georgia went to war over the fate of the separatist region of South Ossetia, for example.

So, should we be spooked? The map below provides some context.

Russia military Ukraine

Okay, so according to Ria Novosti, more than 150,000 troops are due to take part in the drills, as well as 90 planes and more than 120 helicopters. While we don't know precisely where the troops will be, Moscow has said the drills would happen in the Western and Central military districts.

As you can see, while the Western district does border Ukraine, it also covers a huge amount of other land, too. It is possible that some of the troops in this district may be relatively close to Ukraine: According to the Wall Street Journal, the 20th Army, based about 200 miles from the border, is listed to be involved in "operational and tactical exercises."

On the other hand, the military district in the South is the only one that borders Crimea, and Russia says it is not the part of the drill at all. Crimea is a place to watch, and with good reason. The peninsula is a part of Ukraine but has its own legislature and constitution. Until 1954, it was part of Russia, and its population is still about 60 percent ethnic Russian. Russia's Black Sea Fleet is based in Crimea, and Russia also announced vague measures to tighten security at its headquarters today, but did not mention much else.

There have been some reports that Russia might step in to protect these ethnic Russians should Ukraine disintegrate, and a vocal separatist movement in Crimea would no doubt support that. However, the regions involved in the drill suggest that Crimea is not an immediate priority. Russia is, of course, denying that the timing of the drills had anything to do with Ukraine, and RIA Novosti reports that six similar drills were held last year.

That said, Russian military intervention is still a scenario that many people are taking seriously:  Secretary of State John Kerry today warned Russia that sending troops to Ukraine would be a "grave mistake." In this instance, it's hopefully just bluster.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.

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Adam Taylor · February 26, 2014

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