VLADIMIR Putin withdrew Russian troops from the Ukrainian border despite showcasing the country’s military firepower.
It comes as a new footage shows Russian forces displaying their combat readiness in various regions of the country.
Defense Minister and Putin’s close ally Sergei Shoigu ordered tens of thousands of soldiers to return to their bases by 1 May.
But at the same time, he ordered their heavy weapons to be held in western Russia for another military exercise later this year.
The weapons will be stored at the Pogonovo shooting range in the southwestern Voronezh region, 100 miles east of the Ukrainian border.
During the night, “frightened” residents in Rostov-on-Don, near the Ukrainian border, witnessed “ghostly lights” later identified as an infrared guidance system on a Russian warplane.
A video shows a deployment of 600 Northern Fleet units carrying out live fire drills in the Astrakhan region with long-range S-300 surface-to-air missiles.
Other footage shows Tu-95 strategic missile carriers in the Amur region, artillery fire from warships in the Pacific, and army exercises in the Leningrad region.
Moscow also claimed to have flown away with the American spy plane from its state border amid strong tensions between Russia and the United States.
Footage of a Mig-31 shows it intercepts a US Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance plane off the Russian Pacific coast.
The signal to initiate the withdrawal of troops from Ukraine came when Putin’s close ally Shoigu was in annexed Crimea, where massive air and naval exercises were underway on the Black Sea.
Washington reacted to Russia’s withdrawal of troops with State Department official Ned Price who said, “We’ve heard the words. I think what we’re looking for is action.”
The order comes after Putin amassed more than 150,000 troops on the Ukrainian border in the largest military buildup ever recorded in the region, according to the EU’s top diplomat.
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell had warned that a spark could lead the stalemate into an all-out war.
He said after a meeting of foreign ministers: “It is the highest military deployment of the Russian army on the Ukrainian borders ever.
“It is clear that it is a cause for concern when you deploy many troops. Well, a spark can jump here or there.
“There are more than 150,000 Russian troops massing on the Ukrainian borders and in the Crimea. The risk of further escalation is evident”.
The figure of 150,000 was significantly higher than the 110,000 estimated by Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Taran last week.
It was not immediately clear whether the dispersal order applied to all forces surrounding Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who previously challenged Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet him in the conflict zone, welcomed the decision to “ease” tensions at the border.
“The reduction of troops on our border reduces the tension proportionally,” he tweeted.
“Ukraine is always vigilant, but welcomes any steps to decrease the military presence and reduce the situation in Donbas. Ukraine seeks peace. Grateful to international partners for their support.”
More than 10,000 soldiers, 1,200 units of equipment and 40 warships took part in the active phase of the exercise.
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Russian Ambassador Andrey Kelin said Moscow “had no intention” of a full-scale military conflict despite moving tanks and ships to Ukraine’s gates.
Pictures last week showed Russian armored cars painted with “invasion stripes” in Astrakhan, 350 miles from the border.
Military experts had warned that similar white markings – which help identify forces on the same side – were used by the Soviet army during the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia.