Russia commands troops back after massive exercises in Crimea

MOSCOW (AP) – Russia’s defense minister on Thursday ordered troops to return to their permanent bases after massive exercises in Crimea where dozens of naval ships, hundreds of warplanes and thousands of troops were involved in a show of force amid tensions with Ukraine. .

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

“I consider fulfilling the goals of the snap check or readiness,” Shoigu said. “The troops showed their defensive ability and I decided to complete the exercises in the Southern and Western military districts.”

Shoigu said troops should return to their bases by May 1, but he also ordered to keep the heavy weapons deployed in western Russia for another massive military exercise later this year.

Shoigu said they should stay at the Pogonovo shooting range in the southwestern Voronezh region. The vast range lies 160 kilometers (about 100 miles) east of the border with Ukraine.

The Russian troop build-up near Ukraine that came amid growing violations of a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine has caused concern in the West, prompting the Kremlin to withdraw its forces.

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of southwestern Russia near Ukraine, and from Shoigu’s statement it was not immediately clear whether all would be withdrawn now.

The US and NATO said Russia’s build – up 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, more than 10,000 troops, about 200 aircraft and about 1,200 military vehicles.

The exercise landed more than 2,000 paratroopers and 60 military vehicles on Thursday. Fighter jets have taken over the airline industry.

Shoigu flew in a helicopter over the Opuk shooting range in Crimea to oversee the exercise. He later explained the exercises, but ordered the army to be ready to respond to a ‘detrimental development’ during NATO’s Defender Europe 2021 exercise.

Last week, Russia announced that it would close wide areas of the Black Sea near Crimea to foreign naval vessels and state vessels by November, a move that would provoke Ukrainian protests and cause Western concern. Russia this week also announced restrictions on flights near Crimea, arguing that it fully complies with international law.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba warned on Tuesday that Russia’s build-up across the border would continue and “is expected to reach a combined force of more than 120,000 troops within a week” and called on the West to impose sanctions on To sharpen Moscow.

Moscow has rejected the Ukrainian and Western concerns about the build-up, arguing that it is free to deploy its forces all over Russian territory and accusing them of not threatening anyone. But at the same time, the Kremlin has strongly warned Ukrainian authorities against using force to retake control of the rebels in the east, where seven years of fighting have killed more than 14,000 people, saying Russia could be forced into to intervene to protect citizens in the region. .

Amid tensions, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday signed a law allowing the call of reservists for military service without announcing a mobilization. The new law will allow the army to be quickly equipped with reservists, which will significantly increase their combat efficiency during military aggression, Zelenskyy’s office said in a statement.