Russian troops began pulling back to their permanent bases Friday after a massive buildup that caused Ukrainian and Western concerns. On Thursday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu declared the sweeping maneuvers 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.
The EU estimated that more than 100,000 Russian soldiers had amassed near the border as well as in Crimea, which was seized and annexed by Russia in 2014. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who earlier challenged Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet him in the conflict zone, welcomed the decision to “de-escalate” tensions at the border. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Kyiv would await intelligence confirmation of the pullback. He added that if the pullback is confirmed, “this would mean a real easing of tension.” Kuleba thanked NATO and the EU countries for offering “very firm and immediate support to Ukraine”. Following Mr Shoigu’s announcement, Nato said that any move towards reversing the escalation would be “important and well overdue”. It added that the Western military alliance remained vigilant.
At the United Nations, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric also greeted the pullout, saying that “any move that lowers the tensions, as we would expect this would do, is to be welcomed.”