Russia's defense minister on Thursday ordered troops back to their permanent bases following massive drills in Crimea that involved 10,000 troops, 1,200 military vehicles, 200 warplanes, and 60 navy ships in a show of force amid tensions with Ukraine. "I consider the goals of the snap check of readiness fulfilled," Sergei Shoigu said after watching the drills in Crimea and western Russia, per the AP. "The troops have shown their defense capability and I decided to complete the drills in the South and Western military districts." Shoigu said the troops should return to their bases by May 1, but he also ordered to keep the heavy weapons deployed to western Russia as part of the drills for another massive military exercise later this year. Shoigu said they should remain at the Pogonovo firing range in the southwestern Voronezh region, about 100 miles east of the border with Ukraine.
The Russian troop buildup near Ukraine—which the US and NATO said was the largest since Russia annexed Crimea and threw its support behind separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014—came amid increasing violations of a ceasefire in Ukraine's east and raised concerns in the West, which urged the Kremlin to pull its forces back. It wasn't immediately clear from Shoigu's statement if all of them will now be pulled back. Last week, Russia announced that it would close broad areas of the Black Sea near Crimea to foreign navy ships and state vessels until November, a move that drew Ukrainian protests. Russia also announced restrictions on flights near Crimea this week, arguing that they fully conform with the international law. Amid the tensions, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday signed a law allowing the call-up of reservists for military service without announcing a mobilization.
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