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Over 10,000 Russian troops leaving Ukraine border region after month of drills

Thousands of Russian troops who participated in drills near the Ukraine border are marching home.

More than 10,000 soldiers are returning to their permanent bases after a month of drills that ramped up international tensions over the region, Reuters reported Saturday, citing the Russian Interfax independent news agency.

It’s not clear if their movements represent a reversal of the troop buildup that began in the spring and has seen up to 175,000 troops deployed on the border of the two former Soviet states.

The moves came a day after Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky held a video call with 20 US senators and members of Congress on Friday. The Associated Press reported Zelensky spoke about the Russian troop buildup and the situation in Ukraine’s war-torn east, where Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Fighting in the region since then has claimed more than 14,000 lives.

Reuters reported the troops participated in drills in several regions near Ukraine, including in Crimea, as well as in the southern Russian regions of Rostov and Kuban.

The troop buildup along the Ukraine border had fueled fears that Moscow plans to launch an attack, something Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied. This week, however, Putin demanded promises from NATO not to expand eastward. Moscow also says that it can deploy its troops on its territory as it sees fit.

A satellite image shows Russian forces in Soloti, Russia.
Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS
More than 1,200 servicemen and 250 pieces of equipment were involved in drills at Opuk military training ground in Crimea
The moves came a day after Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky held a video call with members of Congress on Friday.
TV Zvezda/east2west news
More than 1,200 servicemen and 250 pieces of equipment were involved in drills at Opuk military training ground in Crimea,
More than 10,000 soldiers are returning to their permanent bases after a month of drills that ramped up international tensions over the region.
TV Zvezda/east2west news

The US and Russia are expected to meet in January for talks about Ukraine, The Wall Street Journal reported. A US official told the Journal that intelligence analysts now see a Russian intervention as more likely than they did several weeks ago. 

“The thinking is along those lines,” the official said.

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