The Russian defense minister on Thursday ordered troops taking part in military drills near the Ukrainian border to return to their regular positions.
The move could end weeks of tension caused by a buildup of troops and weaponry at the Ukraine border. "I believe that the goals of the snap check have been fully achieved. The troops have demonstrated their ability to provide a reliable defense of the country. In this regard, I have decided to complete the inspections in the Southern and Western military districts," Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said in Crimea, the peninsula Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the pullback, saying the move "reduces tensions."
The buildup of tens of thousands of Russian troops near the border, as well as a recent uptick in fighting between pro-Moscow separatists and Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine, led Western countries to voice alarm. Following the pullback announcement, NATO said it would continue to closely monitor the situation. "Any steps towards de-escalation by Russia would be important and well overdue. NATO remains vigilant," a NATO official said in a statement. "We continue to call on Russia to respect its international commitments and withdraw all its forces from Ukrainian territory." According to the European Union, about 100,000 troops were at the border. Moscow, however, has rejected concerns about the buildup, saying it is free to deploy its forces anywhere on Russian territory.
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