Their deployment in eastern and southern Ukraine had fueled fears in Kiev and western capitals that Moscow was preparing an offensive. More than 10,000 Russian troops have returned to their bases after month-long exercises in southern Russia near the Ukrainian border, Moscow announced on Saturday (December 25th).
The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that these maneuvers « Combat training » had taken place on several military sites in the Russian regions of Volgograd, Rostov, Krasnodar and in annexed Crimea, areas in the immediate vicinity of Ukraine.
The ministry specifies that exercises have also taken place in Russian territories further from the Ukrainian border, in the regions of Stavropol, Astrakhan, the North Caucasus, but also in Armenia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In its press release, the Russian army does not specify in which bases these troops were redeployed.
« In order to ensure a high state of alert during the end-of-year celebrations on the military sites of the southern military district, guard units, reinforcements and forces will be assigned to deal with possible emergency situations. emergency ”, she added.
Arm wrestling with the West
For more than a month, Russia has been accused by the West of having massed tens of thousands of soldiers near the Ukrainian border, with a view to a possible military intervention against Kiev. Moscow, which supports East Ukrainian separatists in Donbass, opposes Ukraine’s possible entry into NATO and calls for guarantees from the West that this will not happen, before easing military pressure on its border . These demands are to be addressed in Russian-US negotiations in January.
Relations between Kiev and Moscow have been very tense since Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian Crimean peninsula and the start of a war between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists in the east. In an interview with Agence France-Presse on Friday, the secretary of the Ukrainian National Security Council, Oleksiy Danilov, however downplayed the risk of an imminent escalation.
According to him, the number of Russian troops around Ukraine has increased only slightly, from 93,000 in October to around 104,000 in recent weeks. The Kremlin has repeatedly said it was unaccountable for its troop movements inside the country and accused Western countries of provoking Russia by carrying out military maneuvers near its borders.