Russia on Friday began withdrawing troops that had been running drills near the borders of Ukraine, the defense ministry said, following weeks of heightened tensions between Moscow and the West over the buildup.
“Military units and formations are currently marching to railway loading stations and airfields, and loading onto landing ships, railway platforms and military transport aircraft,” the ministry said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced on Thursday that tens of thousands of troops who had deployed to southern and western Russia for exercises over the past few weeks would be returning to their bases.
The buildup, which came amid an increase in fighting between Kiev’s forces and pro-Russia eastern separatists since the start of the year, raised deep concerns in Ukraine and drew warnings from its Western allies.
Both NATO and Kiev welcomed Russia’s announcement of the drawdown, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky saying “the reduction of troops on our border proportionally reduces tension”.
A NATO official said any “de-escalation by Russia” would be important, adding: “NATO remains vigilant and we will continue to closely monitor Russia’s unjustified military buildup in and around Ukraine.”
The United States had said it was “looking for action” on the troop withdrawal.