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 in the area back to their bases.
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.
Speaking in Crimea, Mr Shoigu said units on exercise would return to base. The aims of the “snap checks” had been achieved, he added.
“The troops have demonstrated their ability to provide a credible defence for the country,” he said, adding that he had instructed the commanders of units from the 58th and 41st armies as well as several airborne divisions to start returning to their “permanent bases” on Friday and to complete the operation by 1 May.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky raised the troop build-up with European leaders last week, and has since challenged Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to meet him in the conflict zone.
Nato leaders have also sounded the alarm and have called a summit in June when Russia 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.
As tensions escalated between Russia and the West, US President Joe Biden contacted Mr Putin last week proposing a summit in a third country. In a state of the nation address on Wednesday, President Putin warned the West against “crossing the red line”.
Conflict in eastern Ukraine broke out in 2014, after the seizure of Crimea from Ukraine. Russian-backed troops captured large areas of the Luhansk and Donetsk region and there have been a number of breaches of a ceasefire in the east in recent weeks.
A Ukrainian soldier was fatally wounded in shelling on Thursday, in what Ukrainian forces said was a deliberate violation of the ceasefire. Some 14,000 people have died since the conflict began.