Massive surprise drills launched in Arctic on Putin’s orders (VIDEO)

Thousands of Russian troops were put on alert Monday morning after President Putin ordered a surprise large-scale military drill to test the armed forces' readiness to counter challenges in the country’s north and particularly in the Arctic.

The order to go into battle readiness mode was given to the Northern Fleet, paratroopers and units of the Western military district at 8am Moscow time (05:00 GMT) by the commander-in-chief.

Some 38,000 troops, 41 ships, 15 submarines, 110 jets and choppers are taking part in the drills which focus on boosting Russia’s military presence in the Arctic and test how quickly special operations forces can be moved along large distances.

“New military challenges and threats demand further boost of the military capabilities of armed forces and special attention is being paid to the condition of the newly-set-up strategic command in the north,” Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu told journalists on Monday.

A month earlier, Shoigu warned that Russia could consider protecting its national interests in the Arctic with military means if necessary.

“The constant military presence in the Arctic and the possibility to protect the state’s interests by military means are regarded as an integral part of the general policy to guarantee national security,” he said.

READ MORE: Russia could protect interests in Arctic via military means – defense minister

During the current tests in the Arctic, the Navy will test sinking imaginary enemy battle ships during the games, Shoigu specified.

This will also be the first time the Arctic Motorized Rifle Brigade, stationed in the Murmansk Region, will be put to the test. The drills will continue until March 21.

Military drills of varying complexity have also been launched all across the country. The Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan, Kant, is also taking part. Troops stationed there are testing their ability to locate an adversary in difficult climatic and geographical conditions.

The Russian drills have been announced amid increased NATO activity near Russian borders, a cause of permanent dissatisfaction in the Kremlin.

On Monday, the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed “deep concern” about the NATO drills taking place in northeastern Europe. Deputy head Aleksey Meshkov has warned that “such actions coming from the alliance can only lead to the destabilizing of the situation and stokes up tension.”

A week ago more than 120 armored units, including tanks, were deployed in Latvia.

READ MORE: Over 100 US armored vehicles roll into Latvia, NATO flexes muscles in Europe (VIDEO)

On Saturday, US Abrams tanks and paratroopers arrived at a military base in the town of Tapa, Estonia, as part of preparations for drills set for May 4 to 15, codenamed Siil (Hedgehog) 2015, says a statement by the Estonian Joint Staff. The exercise will employ 13,000 Estonian troops, as well as the American forces stationed in the country.