Russia, West Launch War Games amid Rising Tensions
Tensions between Russia and Europe over Ukraine are rising again, with the United States and Germany threatening more sanctions and Russia and Europe deploying thousands of troops in military exercises.
The deployments come as Russia celebrates the one-year anniversary of its takeover of the Crimean Peninsula.
"I'm very happy, and my heart is as sunny as the fine day today. We finally got our own place in the country where we were born and where we are looking forward to living," Olga, a pro-Russian resident of Crimea, said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted for the first time last week that he ordered the takeover of the strategic peninsula and was ready to place his country's nuclear forces on alert just in case.
CBN News was in the Crimean capital the day Russian troops stormed the city. A year later, Western leaders still refuse to recognize Russia's land grab in Crimea, calling it an "occupation."
"Exactly one year ago an illegitimate referendum was held on Crimea, a referendum which Russia subsequently used as a pretext for an annexation of Crimea that was not according to international law," German government spokesman Steffen Seibert charged.
The U.S. State Department said sanctions on Russia will continue until Crimea is returned to Ukraine. The Russians say that will never happen, calling Crimea their "historical homeland."
Meanwhile, just off the coast of Crimea, NATO forces from six countries, including the United States, are taking part in joint naval exercises.
The deployment is meant to reassure Baltic States increasingly worried about Russia's next move following the annexation of Crimea.
Not to be outdone, the Russians countered by putting its Northern Fleet in the Arctic on full alert and launching its own military exercise involving some 45,000 forces as well as war planes and submarines.
Putin said he plans to spend more than $350 billion to overhaul Russia's fighting forces.
In Crimea, despite the celebratory atmosphere around the one-year anniversary, the economy on the peninsula has taken a hit. Pressure from a weak ruble and Western sanctions have put a damper on many businesses.
"Last year, we made a complete loss as the rent rose and customer purchasing power was not as strong as before," Valelia, a business owner in Crimea, said.
Despite the international isolation and economic sanctions, many pro-Russian locals remain defiant.
"Our faith has not been shattered in the past year, so we have nothing to regret, nothing," Eugene, a Sevastopol resident, insisted. "Our choice was right. We achieved what we wished for."