Russian troops leave Ukraine border

·2-min read

Russian troops have begun pulling back to their permanent bases after a massive buildup that has caused Ukrainian and Western concerns.

On Thursday, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu declared the sweeping manouevres in Crimea and wide swaths of western Russia over, and ordered the military to bring the troops that took part in them back to their permanent bases by May 1.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the announcement.

The Russian Defence Ministry said on Friday that its forces that took part in the massive drills in Crimea were moving to board trains, transport aircraft and landing vessels en route to their permanent bases.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Kiiv would await confirmation from Ukrainian and NATO intelligence.

"We want to see that Russian deeds match Russian words," Kuleba said Friday during a visit to Romania.

While ordering the pullback of military personnel, Shoigu ordered their heavy weapons kept in western Russia for a massive exercise called Zapad (West) 2021 later this year. The weapons were to be stored at the Pogonovo firing range in the southwestern Voronezh region, 160km east of Russia's border with Ukraine.

The US and NATO have said the troop buildup was the largest since 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and threw its support behind separatists in Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland of Donbas.

More than 14,000 people have been killed in seven years of fighting between Ukrainian troops and the Russia-backed separatists.

The concentration of Russian troops amid increasing violations of a cease-fire in the conflict in eastern Ukraine raised concerns in the West, which urged the Kremlin to pull its forces back.

Moscow rejected the Ukrainian and Western concerns, arguing that it is free to deploy its forces anywhere on Russian territory. But the Kremlin also sternly warned Ukrainian authorities against trying to use force to retake control of the rebel east, saying it could intervene to protect civilians there.