Sevastopol (cream) Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu ended military exercises in the south and west of the country and ordered troops to begin returning to their permanent bases on Friday. This was reported by news agencies. Shoigu announced the decision from the annexed Crimea, where he oversaw a large-scale military exercise. Kiev and the West have watched Russian troop reinforcements on the border with Ukraine in recent days with concern, and Washington has said that after Moscow’s statements, it is also waiting for action.
“The forces have shown their ability to provide the country with reliable defense,” he added. “A few hours after the start of the exercises in Crimea, the Russian Defense Minister said, I decided to end the sorting operations in the southern and western military regions.” The forces will start returning to their permanent bases from Friday and complete the transfers by May 1.
Reuters and the Associated Press noted that it is not entirely clear from the announcement whether the troop withdrawal order applies to all forces that Moscow has moved to the Crimea and southwestern Russia. The Associated Press also wrote that the defense minister has ordered that some weapons be kept in the west of the country for the upcoming military exercises, which are scheduled to take place this year. They are to remain in the Bugonovo military training area in the Voronezh region, about 160 km east of the Ukrainian border.
Kiev has been sounding the alarm for some time about the increase in the number of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine. A few days ago, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuliba said that Russia will soon deploy more than 120,000 soldiers on the border with Ukraine, and called on the West to impose new sectoral sanctions on Russia. The Pentagon said that Russia is focusing its influence in the region more than it was seven years ago. European Union Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said this week that Russia has deployed an unprecedented number of more than 100,000 troops to the Crimea and the borders of Ukraine, threatening further escalation between the two countries.
European Union foreign ministers called on Moscow to withdraw troops and reduce tensions in Ukraine. Moscow responded by saying that it could have an army where it saw fit and that it was not threatening anyone. On the contrary, he talks about provocations from Western countries.
The US diplomacy confirmed that it would continue to closely monitor the situation on the Russian-Ukrainian border. “We heard the words.” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said, “I think what we will care about now is business.” Russian news agencies, referring to the Department of Defense, said there were dozens of warships.
According to the Russian ministry, various units of the army, including the Airborne Forces and air defense units, participated in the exercise. According to the Associated Press, Moscow is showing its strength at a time of increasing tension between Russia and Ukraine. Due to the maneuvers, Russia previously closed part of the maritime and airspace in the Black Sea around the Crimea. Ukraine and the United States protested.
The situation in eastern Ukraine has recently deteriorated. Kiev and the pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country accuse each other of violating the ceasefire and increasingly frequent clashes. Conflict escalated in eastern Ukraine after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and supported an armed uprising of pro-Russian separatists in Donbas. The West responded with sanctions. The major fighting in eastern Ukraine subsided after the peace agreements were concluded in Minsk in February 2015, but so far the ceasefire has not been fully maintained and the political solution to the conflict has not moved in practice.