Russia’s defence ministry has announced it is to withdraw some of its troops from the border with Ukraine in a possible de-escalation of the threat of a potential invasion.
The size of the withdrawal remains unclear and may involve only a fraction of Russia’s forces at the Ukrainian border, which western officials estimate at more than 60% of the country’s ground forces.
The announcement of the withdrawal came in a statement from the defence ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov, who described ongoing exercises that involved forces from "practically all military districts, fleets, and the airborne forces".
"Units of the southern and western military districts, which have accomplished their missions, are boarding trains and trucks and will head for their garrisons later today," Konashenkov said in the statement.
The defence ministry also released a video of Russian tanks and other heavy weaponry being loaded on to railway cars, the Interfax news service reported.
Russia's rouble currency reportedly posted gains following the announcement, indicating that investors hoped this would mark the beginning of a de-escalation of tensions between Russia and the west.
Russia has previously announced the conclusion of military exercises near the Ukrainian border, but social media and satellite photography taken in the following days have not shown considerable changes to Russia’s force posture.
Those exercises involved only a small number of troops.
Many of the troops located close to the Ukrainian border are not involved in any formal training. When questioned on the buildup, Russia has said it has the right to move troops as it wishes within its own territory.
Russia is holding large joint exercises with Belarus scheduled to end on 20th February.
Western countries have warned that those drills could be used as cover to prepare for an attack on Ukraine, while Russia has said those troops will return to base once the exercises have concluded.
Russian government officials moved quickly to accuse the west of hysteria and argue that the withdrawal of troops showed that Nato warnings of an invasion were spurious.
"15 February 2022 will go into history as the day western war propaganda failed," Maria Zakharova, the Russian foreign ministry spokesperson, wrote in a Facebook post after the announcement.
"They have been disgraced and destroyed without a single shot being fired."