Russia is withdrawing its troops from its border with Ukraine, Moscow announced on Thursday.
Following a surprise combat readiness check earlier in the morning, Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu declared an end to military exercises in the area and ordered Russian troops to return to places of their permanent deployment.
“The goals of the surprise check have been fully achieved. The troops demonstrated the ability to provide reliable defense of the country. In this regard, I have decided to complete the inspection activities in the Southern and Western military districts,” Shoygu said following the exercises near and in the Black Sea.
However, Russia will closely follow the transfer of NATO troops for the Defender Europe 2021 military exercise not far from Russia’s southern border, Shoygu added.
“In this region [Black Sea], the military activity of the NATO bloc is significantly increasing. Intelligence activities are being strengthened, and the intensity and scale of operational training activities are increasing.
“We are closely monitoring the deployment of alliance troops to the area of the upcoming Defender Europe 2021 exercise. In Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, coordination centers have been established to ensure the meeting of NATO troops and shipments,” he said, adding that weapons, military, and special equipment were being collected at Greek ports.
He ordered the armed forces to continue monitoring the area of Defender Europe 2021.
In recent weeks, Russia has gathered combat-ready forces close to the Ukrainian border which is considered “the largest massing of Russian troops since the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014,” according to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
Ukraine accuses Russia of stoking tensions, while Moscow says its moves are in response to “Kyiv’s provocative actions,” saying its western neighbor is preparing an offensive aiming to secure a military solution to the conflict with the possibility of hostilities on the border.
Ukraine has been plagued by conflict in its eastern regions since March 2014, following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.
Fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine has seen more than 13,000 people killed, according to the UN.