Global markets rallied Tuesday on the early morning announcement from Russia's defense ministry that it had begun drawing down some military units from near the border with Ukraine. Further, Bloomberg wrote, "The ruble led developing currencies higher as reports Russia is returning some troops to their bases stoked appetite for riskier assets and dimmed the appeal of haven trades."
However, Ukrainian officials remain skeptical that a significant troop reduction is in progress: "Russia constantly makes various statements," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said. "That’s why we have the rule: We won’t believe when we hear, we’ll believe when we see. When we see troops pulling out, we’ll believe in de-escalation." Perhaps anticipating such skepticism, Russia's defense ministry has published a series of clips it says shows tanks and troop units returning to their permanent military bases.
Spokesman for the ministry, Major General Igor Konashenkov, made a televised formal announcement of the completion of key military exercises in the South, which were held near Ukraine and in Crimea.
"The units of the Southern Military District that have completed accomplishing their tasks as part of scheduled tactical exercises at combined arms practice ranges on the Crimean Peninsula have begun returning to their permanent bases," he said according a translation in TASS. "The personnel of battalion tactical groups have conducted marches to the areas of railway stations where operations to load combat equipment on special platforms have been organized."
The press statement underscored that tank units, heavy artillery, and other major hardware are now en route back to their permanent bases. "The troops are now fastening heavy tracked armor, such as tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and self-propelled artillery guns."
The statement continued, "The special trains will deliver the military hardware to the regions where the troops are permanently stationed, in particular, in Dagestan and North Ossetia. Upon arrival at their permanent bases, the troops will carry out maintenance of their equipment, the press office specified."
Elsewhere in Russian state media, footage was featured purporting to show the continuing withdraw of tank units from near Ukraine's border...
After recent days wherein the United States issued unusually blunt predictions that Russia was poised to invade "any day" - and with reports featuring intelligence officials specifying Wednesday, February 16 as the exact day - this announced pullback from the Kremlin appears to be rapidly cooling tensions and even the 'war-footing' rhetoric coming from the West.
For example, on Tuesday NATO Secretary General said he currently has "cautious optimism" over Russia's latest signals on Ukraine, but he didn't quick acknowledge it as a sign of de-escalation just yet.
The AFP further cited sources on the ground to say: "There is no panic in society... You see how many people are walking around, they are all smiling, they are all happy," in a report from the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. "On streets of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, residents enjoying bright winter sunshine were warily optimistic, and grateful that Ukraine and its allies appeared to have held their nerve."
Global oil prices drop steeply as Russia’s military announces that troops engaged in field exercises near #Ukraine have begun returning to their bases.— Murad Gazdiev (@MuradGazdiev) February 15, 2022
Russian rouble & Ukrainian Hryvnia strengthen significantly, as markets bet against war pic.twitter.com/wZYF29rHto
Meanwhile in Moscow German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is wrapping up talks with Vladimir Putin, with a news conference expected later in the day. Scholz might provide some level of confirmation over the Russian troop draw down, or possibly some details over the size of the units returning to their basis.