Russia Draws Troops Back From Drills Near Ukraine

The Russian defence minister ordered heavy weapons to remain near the border for another exercise later this year.

Russia has ordered its troops pull back from the areas close to Ukraine which have seen huge military exercises in recent weeks.

The country's defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, declared the manoeuvres over and ordered personnel involved in drills in Crimea and western Russia to return to their permanent bases.

Dozens of warships, hundreds of aircraft and thousands of troops have caught international attention, following 2014's illegal annexation of Crimea.

Recent events have prompted a response from the West, with NATO calling for the exercises to come to an end.

Russia had previously warned the military alliance not to send troops to Ukraine in response to the activity.

"I consider the goals of the snap check of readiness fulfilled," Mr Shoigu said.

"The troops have shown their defence capability and I decided to complete the drills in the south and western military districts."

Russian troops were ordered to return to base by 1 May, although Mr Shoigu said heavy weapons used during the drills should remain in south-western Russia's Pogonovo firing range, ahead of another military exercise this year.

Watch: NATO gave its support to Ukraine earlier this month.

The range is located 160km (about 100 miles) east of the border with Ukraine.

A build-up of troops near Ukraine was said to be the largest since 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and threw its support behind separatists in eastern Ukraine.

NATO's Defender Europe 2021 exercise has run alongside the rising tensions and Mr Shoigu had ordered the military to stand ready to respond to any "adverse developments" during the western drills. "NATO has significantly intensified its military activities in the region," he said.

"Intelligence gathering has increased and the intensity and scope of operational training has been growing.

"One of the alliance’s main coalition groups is being deployed in the Black Sea region."

NATO has had troops, including British personnel, in Ukraine for training and even taken part in joint exercises.

Russia has long bristled at the deployment of NATO's forces near its borders and stepped up its drills as relations with the West have sunk to post-Cold War lows over the annexation of Crimea, Russian meddling in elections, hacking attacks and other issues.

Cover image: Russian forces parachute as part of exercises near the border with Ukraine (Picture: Russian Ministry of Defence).