Russian Troops Reportedly End Drills, Leave Ukraine Border As Tensions Remain High

Thousands of Russian troops have reportedly withdrawn from the Ukraine border after conducting month-long drills, as tensions remain high amid fears that Moscow may be planning an attack.

On Saturday, Reuters reported that more than 10,000 Russian troops were exiting several regions near Ukraine and returning to permanent bases, citing information from the Interfax news agency. Those areas include Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, as well as in southern Russian regions of Rostov and Kuban.

"A stage of combat coordination of divisions, combat crews, squads at motorized units... has been completed. More than 10,000 military servicemen... will march to their permanent deployment from the territory of the combined arms' area of drills," the Russian army told Interfax, according to Reuters.

The report comes as Russia recently moved to deploy tens of thousands of troops along Ukraine's north, east, and southern borders, which sparked fears across Kyiv and the West that the country may be planning an invasion. The number of Russian troops near the border has varied in reports from 90,000 to as high as 175,000, according to Reuters.

Russia has repeatedly denied any plans for an attack and has instead insisted that it has the authority to deploy troops within its borders as it deems necessary. The nation is also seeking a promise from NATO to refuse Ukraine's entry into the organization and scale back military support to Kyiv, citing concerns that its own national security is threatened by Ukraine's ties to the West.

"We don't want a war," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said earlier this week. "We don't want to take the path of confrontation. But we will firmly ensure our security using the means we consider necessary."

Saturday's report of Russian troops withdrawing from the border also comes two weeks after President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone about the situation. During that call, the White House said Biden warned Putin that Moscow would suffer economic and diplomatic consequences if it attempted an invasion.

Separately, NATO allies last week urged Russia to withdraw its military presence near Ukraine and to instead pursue diplomatic negotiations. The organization has also said that Russia has no authority to determine Ukraine's fate within NATO.

"We are gravely concerned by the substantial, unprovoked, and unjustified Russian military build-up on the borders of Ukraine in recent months, and reject the false Russian claims of Ukrainian and NATO provocations," the allies said in a statement. "We call on Russia to immediately de-escalate, pursue diplomatic channels, and abide by its international commitments on transparency of military activities."

"We are ready for meaningful dialogue with Russia," they added. "We reiterate our long-standing invitation to Russia for a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in the near future."

Russia/Ukraine conflict
Ukrainian soldiers Mykhailo (L) and Pavlo build a bunker on the front line on December 12, 2021 in Zolote, Ukraine, as tens of thousands of Russian troops amass near the country's border. Brendan Hoffman/Reuters, Getty Images