December 6, 2022

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Russia says some troops have returned to base, and Ukraine retaliates with caution

Russia says some troops have returned to base, and Ukraine retaliates with caution

Russian soldiers drive tanks during military exercises in the Leningrad region, Russia, in this photo posted on February 14, 2022. Russian Ministry of Defense / Posted via Reuters / File photo

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MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Tuesday that some of its military units had returned to bases after exercises near Ukraine, days after US and British warnings that Moscow could invade its neighbor at any time.

It was not clear how many units had been withdrawn and how far after an estimated 130,000 Russian troops had been built into northern, eastern and southern Ukraine.

The development was met with a cautious response from Ukraine and Britain, but it led to a sharp rise in financial markets. Western military analysts said it was too early to ascertain the extent of any de-escalation.

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“We have always said that the troops will return to their bases after the exercises are over. This is the case this time as well,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

He accused the United States of fueling the crisis by repeatedly warning of an imminent invasion to the point that Peskov said President Vladimir Putin had joked about it.

“He is asking (us) to know if the exact time, even the hour, for the start of the war has been published. It is impossible to understand this obsessive informational frenzy,” Peskov told reporters.

Britain, which led with the United States, responded to warnings of imminent action, with caution.

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“The Russians claimed they had no plans to invade, but we would need to see a complete withdrawal of forces to prove that,” Secretary of State Liz Truss told LBC Radio.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Kiev would not believe that Russia would move to calm the situation unless it saw itself as the withdrawal of Russian forces.

“If we see a withdrawal, we will believe in de-escalation,” he was quoted by the Ukrainian Interfax news agency as saying.

German Chancellor Olaf Schulz, in the latest Western diplomatic mission to defuse the crisis, has begun talks with Putin in the Kremlin.

A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry said that while large-scale exercises continued across the country, some units in the southern and western military regions bordering Ukraine had completed their exercises and had begun to return to the base.

The Southern Military District said its forces had begun withdrawing from Crimea and returning to their bases after completing exercises on the peninsula that Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.

Video footage released by the Ministry of Defense showed some tanks and other armored vehicles being loaded onto flat rail cars.

“February 15, 2022 will go down in history with the failure of Western propaganda for the war. I was humiliated and destroyed without a single shot being fired,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

Russian stocks, government bonds and the ruble, which were hurt by fears of an imminent conflict, rose sharply, as did Ukrainian government bonds.

Cautious response

Western military analysts have been cautious about the significance of recent troop movements.

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Several Russian troops came to Belarus for the exercises scheduled to end on Sunday from thousands of miles away in the Eastern Military District. Tuesday’s announcement made no mention of those forces.

“There will probably be good news, but we will have to wait and see where the Eastern and Central Military District go, especially after February 20,” Rob Lee, a military analyst specializing in Russia, wrote on Twitter.

As long as that remains nearby, Russia will have the ability to conduct a significant escalation, albeit not on short notice.

Konrad Muzica, director of Poland-based consultancy Roshan, told Reuters it would take several days to verify the latest movements via satellite imagery.

“It is also worth noting that new trains with equipment from Central Russia continue to arrive near the border and that Russian forces continue to move towards the staging areas. This announcement comes in direct opposition to what Russia has been doing in the past few days,” he said.

Commercial satellite images taken on Sunday and Monday showed a wave of Russian military activity at several locations near Ukraine, according to the private US company that published the images.

US-based Maxar Technologies has reported the arrival of several large deployments of troops and attack helicopters as well as new deployments of ground attack aircraft and bomber aircraft to advanced positions. Read more

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Additional reporting by Sarah Marsh and Anton Kolodiazny in Moscow and Kylie McClellan in London; Written by Tom Palmforth and Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Angus McSwan

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