Russia says it is ending military buildup at Ukrainian border | TheHill – The Hill

Russia on Thursday said it would be ending its massive military buildup at the Ukrainian border, which has increased tensions with Ukraine, the United States and other Western countries.

Russia said troops would be ordered to return to their bases by May 1, with Russian state media reporting the military had completed exercises being conducted near the border, according to Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu. 

The drills in Crimea, which occurred as recently as Thursday, included more than 60 ships, more than 10,000 troops, roughly 200 aircraft and 1,200 military vehicles, according to The Associated Press. It had prompted weeks of concern about a potential Russian invasion. 

Shoygu said Thursday, “The troops have shown their defense capability and I decided to complete the drills in the South and Western military districts.”

The Russian buildup near the Ukrainian border was the largest since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and announced its support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Last week, Russia announced that it would close portions of the Black Sea near Crimea to foreign naval ships and state vessels through November and also said this week it would place restrictions on flights near Crimea, arguing that they did not yet meet international law, according to the AP. 

On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that satellite images showed Russia had moved more warplanes, troops and equipment near the Ukrainian border than it had initially said. 

The finding came a day after the European Union’s top foreign policy minister, Josep Borrell, warned that amid all-time high tensions at the border, “a spark” could set off a war between the two countries. 

On Tuesday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba warned that the Russian military buildup was “expected to reach a combined force of over 120,000 troops,” and urged the U.S. and other Western countries to increase sanctions to put pressure on Moscow to pull back. 

Despite the announced pullback, Axios noted Thursday that tens of thousands of troops remain within striking distance of Ukraine, with tensions likely to persist. 

The Biden administration has aimed to take a tough stance on Russia, and on Wednesday U.S. diplomats met with Russian officials to discuss a recent series of sanctions between the two nations.

Last week, the U.S. issued sweeping sanctions on Russia, responding in part to Moscow’s actions toward Ukraine, as well as Russia’s espionage operations and election interference. 

In response, Russia gave the U.S. a list of sanctioned American diplomats, though it was not clear exactly who was included. 

The Biden administration has said that it will continue to defend Ukraine, though Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinUS, Russian officials discuss sanctions Menendez threatens sanctions on Russia if Navalny not given medical treatment More than 200 arrested in Navalny demonstrations in Russia MORE on Wednesday warned Western nations that anyone who crosses a “red line” will be met with a harsh response.