Russian troop numbers near Ukraine's borders not sufficient for large-scale offensive - ICG

Russian paratroopers take part in drills at a military aerodrome in Taganrog

Russian paratroopers take part in drills at a military aerodrome in Taganrog

After watching the drills, Russian Defense Minister Sergei 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.

The move could end weeks of tension caused by a buildup of troops and weaponry at the Ukraine border.

"I believe that the goals of the snap check have been fully achieved".

"The troops have shown their capacity to provide a solid defence for our country", Sergey Shoygu, defence minister, said in televised remarks after inspecting training grounds in Crimea where a heightened military presence raised a particular concern in the West. Any steps towards de-escalation by Russian Federation would be important and well overdue. "Ukraine seeks peace", Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter, adding that he was "grateful to worldwide partners for their support".

The European Union estimates that Russian Federation has amassed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine and in Crimea, which observers call the largest troop buildup since the eastern Ukrainian conflict first broke out in 2014.

Ukraine, its Western allies and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation have accused Russian Federation of a "provocative" build-up of troops on Ukraine's eastern border and in Crimea.

As Russia-Ukraine tensions appear to de-escalate, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation says it believes that "any steps" towards de-escalation are important. The new law will allow to quickly equip the military with reservists, "significantly increasing their combat effectiveness during military aggression", Zelenskyy's office said in a statement. "North Atlantic Treaty Organisation stands with Ukraine, and we continue to call on Russian Federation to respect its worldwide commitments and withdraw all its forces from Ukrainian territory", the official said.

Kyiv and Moscow have traded blame for rising clashes in the Donbass, where Ukrainian troops have battled Russian-backed forces in a conflict that Ukraine says has killed 14,000 people since 2014.

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Moscow has rejected Ukrainian and Western concerns about the buildup, arguing that it's free to deploy its forces anywhere on the Russian territory and charging that they don't threaten anyone.

Shoigu said that the military taking part in the drills should return to their bases by May 1. However, he also ordered that heavy weapons be kept in place about 160 kilometers (100 miles) east of the border for another military exercise later this year.

Although Russia has shrugged off the build-up as training exercises in response to "threatening" actions from North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, it is also said to be planning to cordon off areas of the Black Sea to foreign shipping.

The drills are a new US-led, multinational joint exercise between United States and other global forces launched in 2020, and expanded for 2021.

Speaking to reporters after the order for troops to return to base, Mr Putin said as far as bilateral relations were concerned "we are ready to welcome the president of Ukraine at any time that is convenient for him", but in Moscow.

The offer came after Zelenskyy invited the Russian leader to meet him for talks in Ukraine's war-ravaged east.

Putin responded in televised remarks Thursday, saying if the Ukrainian leadership wants to settle the conflict in Donbas, it should first engage in talks with separatist leaders there and only after that discuss it with Russian Federation.

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