Russia is ordering troops back after massive exercises in Crimea

MOSCOW (AP) – Russia’s defense minister on Thursday ordered troops back to their permanent bases after massive exercises in Crimea involving dozens of naval ships, hundreds of warships and thousands of troops in a power show amid tensions with Ukraine.

After watching the exercises, Russian Defense Minister Shoigu declared the maneuvers over and ordered the military to withdraw troops participating in maneuvers in Crimea and western Russia to their permanent bases.

“I consider the emergency snapcheck objectives met,” Shoigu said. “The troops have shown their defense capability, and I decided to conduct the exercises in the southern and western military districts.”

Shoigu said troops should return to their bases by May 1, but he also ordered the retention of the heavy weapons sent to western Russia as part of exercises for another massive military exercise later in the year.

Shoigu said they should remain at the Pogonovo shooting range in the southwestern Voronezh region. The vast range is 160 kilometers east of the border with Ukraine.

The Russian troop building near Ukraine, which came amid growing ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine, has given rise to concern in the West, which called on the Kremlin to withdraw its forces.

The Russian military has not reported the number of additional troops moved to Crimea and parts of southwestern Russia near Ukraine, and it was not immediately clear from Shoigu’s statement whether all will now be withdrawn.

The United States and NATO have said Russia’s construction near Ukraine was the largest since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and threw its support behind separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the maneuvers in Crimea involved more than 60 ships, over 10,000 troops, about 200 aircraft and about 1,200 military vehicles.

The exercise included landing more than 2,000 paratroopers and 60 military vehicles on Thursday. Fighter planes covered the airborne operation.

Shoigu flew in a helicopter over the Opuk shooting range in Crimea to oversee the exercise. He later declared the exercises, but ordered the military to be prepared to respond to any “negative developments” during NATO’s Defender Europe 2021 exercise.

Last week, Russia announced that it would close large areas of the Black Sea near Crimea to foreign naval and state ships until November, a move that attracted Ukrainian protests and raised Western concerns. Russia also announced restrictions on flights near Crimea this week, arguing that they were in full compliance with international law.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba warned on Tuesday that Russia’s cross-border construction would continue and “is expected to reach a total force of over 120,000 troops” in about a week, and called on the West to strengthen sanctions against Moscow.

Moscow has dismissed Ukrainian and Western concerns over the build-up, arguing that it is free to deploy its forces anywhere on Russian territory and charge that they do not threaten anyone. But at the same time, the Kremlin strongly warned Ukrainian authorities against trying to use force to regain control of the uprising in the east, where seven years of fighting have killed more than 14,000, and said Russia could be forced to intervene to protect civilians in the region. . .

Amid tensions, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday signed a law allowing the convening of reservists for military service without announcing a mobilization. The new law will make it possible to quickly equip the military with reservists, “significantly increasing their combat efficiency during military aggression,” Zelensky’s office said in a statement.