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The Russian Defense Ministry has announced that it will withdraw some of its troops from the border with Ukraine as part of a possible de-escalation of the threat of a possible invasion.
The extent of the withdrawal remains uncertain and may involve only a fraction of Russian forces on the Ukrainian border, which Western officials estimate at more than 60% of the country’s ground forces.
The announcement of the withdrawal came in a statement by Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov, who described ongoing exercises involving forces from “virtually all military districts, fleets and airborne forces”.
“Units from the Southern and Western Military Districts, which have completed their missions, are boarding trains and trucks and will head to their garrisons later today,” Konashenkov said in the statement.
The Defense Ministry also released a video of Russian tanks and other heavy weapons being loaded onto wagons, the Interfax news service reported.
The Russian ruble reportedly recorded gains after the announcement, indicating that investors hoped it would mark the start of a de-escalation in tensions between Russia and the West.
Russia previously announced the conclusion of military exercises near the Ukrainian border, but social media and satellite photographs taken in the following days showed no dramatic changes in the posture of Russian forces. These exercises involved only a small number of soldiers.
Many troops located near the Ukrainian border do not participate in any formal training. Asked about the buildup, Russia said it had the right to move troops as it wished on its own territory.
Russia is organizing major joint exercises with Belarus which are due to end on February 20. Western countries have warned the drills could be used as cover to prepare for an attack on Ukraine, while Russia has said troops will return to base once the drills are over.
Russian government officials moved quickly to accuse the West of hysteria and argued that the troop withdrawal showed NATO warnings of an invasion were misleading.
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