“Units of the Southern Military District, having completed their participation in tactical exercises, are moving to their permanent deployment points,” Moscow’s Defence Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday, as state television showed images of military units crossing a bridge linking the Russian-controlled peninsula to the mainland.
The Russia’s Defence Ministry has also released video footage that it says shows a column of tanks and military vehicles leaving Crimea after drills, adding that some troops would also return to their permanent bases.
“Combat equipment and military personnel will be delivered by military trains to the units’ permanent deployment points,” the ministry said.
“Upon arrival, the equipment will be serviced and prepared for carrying out the next phase of combat training,” it added.
The video showed dozens of military vehicles crossing a railway bridge at night.
Russian armed forces have also started returning to permanent military bases after loading tanks and other military vehicles onto railway wagons, the country’s western military district says.
Russia’s southern military district had earlier said more forces surrounding Ukraine were withdrawing.
Despite Russia announcing a pullback of some of its troops stationed around Ukraine’s borders and welcoming further talks with the West, the United States and its allies have announced they need evidence of the troop movements and warned that the threat of a Russian invasion still looms.
President Joe Biden said Washington had not verified Moscow’s withdrawal of forces.
“Our analysts indicate that they remain very much in a threatening position,” he stated, adding, however, there was still room for diplomacy to solve the crisis.
Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand has said she hopes to see evidence of a Russian troop withdrawal from around Ukraine’s borders but warned that for the moment, numbers were increasing.
“The escalation of Russian troops at the Ukrainian border, including in Belarus, is increasingly significant,” Anand told reporters as she arrived for the meeting of NATO defence ministers.
“We look forward to seeing evidence of the withdrawal of troops on Russia’s part. But we need to prepare for any eventuality with that significant escalation of Russian troops that we have seen over the last weeks,” she noted, adding the situation was at a pivotal moment.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said the United Kingdom is yet to seen any evidence that Russia is withdrawing troops from positions near the Ukrainian border.
“We haven’t seen any evidence at the moment of that withdrawal,” Wallace told the UK’s Times Radio.
“We’ll take Russia at its word, but we will judge them on their actions,” he added.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has also urged Russia to prove that it is pulling back troops from near Ukraine’s borders.
“It remains to be seen whether there is a Russian withdrawal … What we see is that they have increased the number of troops, and more troops are on the way,” Stoltenberg told reporters at the start of a two-day meeting of NATO defence ministers at the US-led alliance’s headquarters in Brussels.
“If they really start to withdraw forces, that’s something we will welcome … They have always moved forces back and forth so just that we see movement of forces, of battle tanks, doesn’t confirm a real withdrawal,” he continued.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has declared Wednesday – the day some US reports suggested an incursion could be launched – “a day of unity”. He has called on Ukraine’s citizens to display national flags and don blue and yellow ribbons in order to demonstrate the country’s “unity to the whole world”.
Zelenskyy has also noted he does not yet see any Russian troop withdrawal from positions near to the Ukrainian border.
“To be honest, we react to the reality we have, and we don’t see any withdrawal yet,” the BBC quoted the Ukrainian president as saying during a visit in western Ukraine.
Ukrainians are raising national flags and playing the country’s anthem to mark the country’s “day of unity”.
The yellow and blue banner fluttered outside schools, hospitals and many shops, while a loudspeaker at a local government office in the capital, Kyiv, blared patriotic songs. National television and government Youtube channels also broadcast speeches and rousing reminders of Ukraine’s nationhood.
Oleksii Reznikov has said the latest threat assessments did not contain “anything unexpected” and were consistent with earlier views.
In a televised statement, Ukraine’s defence minister said his country’s armed forces were keeping up a nationwide military drill, one of which would be attended by the military attache of Belarus.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow does not want war and would rely on diplomatic efforts to eliminate any chance that Ukraine could one day join NATO – his key demand in the crisis. At the same time, he did not commit to a full military pullback, warning Russia’s next moves in the standoff will depend on how the situation evolves.
On Wednesday, the Kyodo news agency has also reported G7 foreign ministers are planning an emergency meeting in Germany this week. Presumably, the meeting of G7 top diplomats will be held on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference (MSC). According to the news agency’s sources in the government, the situation around Ukraine will be the main subject of this meeting.