March 13 - Russian troops conduct overnight training near the Ukrainian border as tension escalates ahead of upcoming referendum on Crimea's status. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) STORY: In what is likely to be seen as a show of force, Russian troops held military exercises in several regions near the Ukrainian border early on Thursday (March 13) amid heightened tension between Kiev and Moscow over Ukraine. Russia's Defence Ministry said about 8,500 Russian troops were taking part in training drills near the border with Ukraine involving artillery and multiple rocket launchers. A statement on the ministry's website confirmed that the exercises had begun at bases in the Southern Military District but did not say how long they would last. In the early hours of Thursday, Russian troops took positions near the the port city of Rostov-on-Don, neighbouring Ukraine. They fired automatic riffles, machine guns and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), Reuters video showed. Further training took place in Belgorod, Tambov and Kursk regions, the ministry said. The exercises are likely to cause concern in Ukraine because of the political standoff between Kiev and Moscow over Ukraine's Crimea region, which is now in the hands of Russian forces. A referendum on whether Crimea should join Russia, dimmed by Kiev and the West as illegal, is due on Sunday, March 16. The exercise includes a large number of artillery and Grad, Hurricane and Tornado multiple-rocket launchers, the Defence Ministry said in a statement on its website. Also involved were Howitzers, Nona self-propelled artillery and Rapier anti-tank guns. Officials said the aim of the exercises were to improve cooperation with motorized infantry, tank, air-assault and marine units.