Russia orders test of combat readiness in west

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President Vladimir Putin has reportedly ordered an immediate test of combat readiness of troops in central and western Russia.

Russia's state news agencies are quoting Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying that Putin ordered the test at 2 p.m. Moscow time on Wednesday. The report did not mention Ukraine, one of Russia's western neighbors, where months of protests have forced a pro-Russia president to go into hiding.

The Kremlin was unable to confirm the order. The defense ministry was unavailable for comment.

The move comes amid news from a Ukraine health official, who said at least 20 people were injured in clashes between pro- and anti-Russian protesters in Ukraine's strategic Crimea region.

The violence erupted as two competing rallies met outside the regional parliament, which was to hold a crisis session on the turmoil that has gripped the country.

About 20,000 Muslim Tatars rallied in support of Ukraine's interim government, while a smaller pro-Russian group called for stronger ties with Russia.

The protesters shouted and attacked each other with stones, bottles and punches, as police and leaders of both rallies struggled to keep the two groups apart.

An ambulance doctor, who only gave his first name, Vladimir, because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media, said that about 20 people were injured in the clashes.

Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov expressed concern about increasing nationalism in western Ukraine. The comments come as the whereabouts of ousted President Viktor Yanukovich remain unclear and efforts continue in the country to assemble a new government.

While Lavrov condemned the rise of what he called nationalist and new fascist sentiment in western Ukraine, he does it by addressing the OSCE, which is the European democracy watchdog.

What seems to be driving the uncertainty about what Russia does next isn't the rhetoric. It's the fact that Vladimir Putin just hasn't been seen from or heard from since his return from the Olympics. Experts in Moscow believe Putin would only use intervention or something as dramatic as encouraging a split in Ukraine as a last resort, according to NBC News.

NBC News contributed to this report.