Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Russia pulling troops back from Ukraine border, calming Western suspicions

Moscow's troop movements close to the border and in annexed Crimea were making people nervous in Ukraine, Europe and the US.

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After weeks of tension over a build-up of Russian troops close to Ukraine’s border, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has ordered a number of units to withdraw.

“The troops have demonstrated their ability to provide a credible defence for the country,” he told Russian media.

The EU estimated that more than 100,000 Russian soldiers had amassed near the border as well as in Crimea, which was seized and annexed by Russia in 2014.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who earlier challenged Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet him in the conflict zone, welcomed the decision to “de-escalate” tensions at the border.

Zelensky raised the troop build-up with European leaders last week, reporting that Russian battalion-strength tactical groups were massing on the border.

Following Shoigu’s announcement, Nato said that it remains vigilant and any move towards reversing the escalation would be “important and well overdue”.

Nato leaders have called a summit in June when Russia and Ukraine will be high on the agenda.

Although Russia has shrugged off the build-up as training exercises in response to “threatening” actions from Nato, it is also said to be planning to cordon off areas of the Black Sea to foreign shipping. Ukraine fears its ports could be affected.

Moscow knew very well that its troop movements close to Ukraine and in annexed Crimea were making a lot of people very nervous in Ukraine, Europe and the US.

It may well have been using the build-up of troops to send a signal to Kyiv, Brussels and, especially, to Washington that Russia is a force to be reckoned with.

Last week, US President Joe Biden telephoned President Putin and proposed a summit.

Russia’s defence minister has made it clear that “Russia is taking measures in response to threats from Nato”.

For example, Moscow is planning to block areas of the Black Sea to foreign shipping for six months.

In a state-of-the-nation address on Wednesday, President Putin warned the West against “crossing a red line”.

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