- Russia has announced it is withdrawing troops from Crimea, on Ukraine’s southern border.
- Ukraine still shares an eastern border with Russia and Belarus, Moscow’s ally, to the north.
- Russia’s defense ministry didn’t specify exactly how many troops are pulling back.
Russia said on Wednesday that it has ended its military drills in Crimea, and that an unspecified number of its troops would return to their bases.
“The units of the Southern Military District, which have completed their participation in tactical exercises on the training grounds of the Crimean Peninsula, are marching to their permanent deployment points by rail,” said the Russian Defense Ministry in a statement.
It published an image of armored vehicles crossing the Crimea bridge by night. The Russian state news agency Ria Novosti also published video of around a dozen armored vehicles, including tanks, moving over the bridge.
—РИА Новости (@rianru) February 16, 2022
The announcement came a day after Russia declared it would withdraw some forces from the Ukrainian border, and as the West continued to warn of a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Kremlin had amassing more than 100,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s border since November, though it has denied planning an attack.
Crimea, which Russia invaded and annexed in 2014, is a peninsula to the south of Ukraine. The country’s concerns also extend to its eastern and northern borders, which it shares with Russia and Moscow’s ally Belarus respectively.
Russia said on Tuesday that some of its military exercises at the border, including those with Belarus, would continue.
Western officials were skeptical that Moscow would truly de-escalate when it made the initial announcement.
President Joe Biden on Tuesday said that the White House had “not yet verified” Russia’s claims that it was pulling back, and that its invasion “remains distinctly possible.”
On Wednesday, the secretary general of NATO said that Russia was actually sending more troops towards Ukraine’s borders, contradicting the Russian claims of withdrawal.