Russian decision to pull back troops well overdue, NATO says

Photo: AP Russian paratroopers load into a plane for airborne drills during maneuvers in Taganrog, Russia, 22 April 2021.

Russia's announcement on Thursday that it was ordering troops back to base from the area near the border with Ukraine is important and timely, a NATO official said, adding that the Western military alliance would remain vigilant, news wires reported.

"Any steps towards de-escalation by Russia would be important and well overdue," a NATO official told Reuters. "NATO remains vigilant and we will continue to closely monitor Russia's unjustified military build-up in and around Ukraine," the official said. The official said NATO stood with Ukraine, which is not a member of the alliance, and called on Russia to withdraw all its forces from Ukraine's territory.

Russia’s defence minister Sergei Shoigu on Thursday ordered troops back to their permanent bases following massive drills amid tensions with Ukraine, but said that they should leave their weapons behind in western Russia for another exercise later this year.

After watching the drills, Shoigu declared the maneuvers in Crimea and wide swathes of western Russia over and ordered the military to pull the troops that took part in them back to their permanent bases. Shoigu said the troops should return to their bases by 1 May, but he ordered to keep the heavy weapons deployed to western Russia as part of the drills for another massive military exercise later this year.

In a tweet, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukraine "welcomes any steps to decrease the military presence & deescalate the situation in Donbas (eastern Ukraine)", adding "Grateful to international partners for their support".

In Moscow, the Kremlin said Putin was aware of an invitation from Ukrainian President Zelenskiy to meet to discuss the crisis. "If the president considers it necessary, he will reply himself. I have nothing to say on that now," spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.


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