Russia’s defence ministry said on Friday it had begun moving its troops and military units out of annexed Crimea in a move of de-escalation amid war fears. They did not, however, mention the withdrawal of military equipment. In a statement on Friday, Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, warned the conflict would not end despite the withdrawal.
He said: “If Russia really pulls back from the border with Ukraine the enormous military force it has deployed there, this will already ease tensions.
“But we need to remember that this step would put an end neither to the current escalation, nor to the conflict between Ukraine and Russia in general.”
Despite the pulling back of troops, Russia’s defence minister Sergei Shoigu ordered heavy weapons and military equipment to remain near the border.
The weapons left near the border will include tanks and heavy artillery.
In a carefully worded statement, he said: “Military units and formations are currently marching to railway loading stations and airfields, and loading onto landing ships, railway platforms and military transport aircraft.”
Troops are expected to return to permanent bases by May 1 but it is unclear how many will remain in the region.
In response to Russia’s actions, U.S. State Department spokesman, Ned Price, announced Washington would continue to watch Vladimir Putin‘s actions “very closely”.
The US has been engaged in a political “tit-for-tat” battle with Russia, as last week Washington imposed sanctions on Moscow and expelled several diplomats.
Despite political tensions, President Joe Biden extended an olive branch to Vladimir Putin in the form of a climate summit, but Moscow has yet to accept.
On Friday, the Kremlin denied the troop withdrawal had anything to do with the potential Biden-Putin summit and blamed the US for the degraded relations between the two super nations.
In a tweet, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy welcomed the news of Russia’s troop withdrawal.
He said Ukraine “welcomes any steps to decrease the military presence and deescalate the situation in Donbas.”
He added that he was “Grateful to international partners for their support.”