Russia has given further confirmation Friday of a major troop reduction underway in its southern region, causing Ukraine and regional powers to breath a sigh of relief. Russia's defense ministry still blamed the United States for this month's escalation in tensions which has driven world headlines. As Reuters reports, the statement indicated the "troop pullback had nothing to do with ties with Washington or a possible Biden-Putin summit and blamed the United States for the dire state of relations, saying that Moscow wanted to revive bilateral ties."
It's the first on the ground confirmation following Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu's Thursday declaration that the major Crimea and Black sea war drills had been completed and that troops would be ordered back to their permanent bases. "Russia on Friday said troops from its southern military district and airborne troops that took part in the snap inspection were beginning to rebase," Reuters notes of the latest announcement.
"It said that military units and formations were marching to railway loading stations and airfields and aired footage of armoured vehicles boarding landing ships on a beach and other military vehicles being loaded onto trains. Soldiers were shown marching onto a military aircraft," the report continues.
It's further being called a "confirmed pullout of the troops" which is likely to be "welcomed by Western countries" which had been threatening Moscow that any offensive into eastern Ukraine will be met with a swift response.
Over the past month there've been growing fears that a major regional conflict could break out, especially after both Kiev and Washington accused Russia of mustering even more troops near war-torn Donbass than during 2014, which was at the start and height of the conflict between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian national forces near breakaway Donetsk and Luhansk.
Speculation has been rampant and the actual numbers of additional Russian troops near Ukraine over the past three weeks has differed wildly - from claims of multiple tens of thousands to 100,000 - and all the way up to fantastical projections of 150,000. It remains unclear to what degree Russia will fully draw down these 'extra' forces near Ukraine's border and in Crimea.
Ukraine's President Zelensky also appears to have confirmed the major troop reduction near the border...
The reduction of troops on our border proportionally reduces tension. 🇺🇦 is always vigilant, yet welcomes any steps to decrease the military presence & deescalate the situation in Donbas. Ukraine seeks peace. Grateful to international partners for their support #StrongerTogether— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) April 22, 2021
It's likely that some level of an additional remnant of military units and hardware from the latest ramped up drills will remain in this southern Russian region, which will likely continue to rile Kiev and its external backers in NATO.