Some troops in Russia’s military districts adjacent to Ukraine are returning to bases after completing drills, Russia’s defence ministry was quoted as saying on Tuesday, a move that could de-escalate frictions between Moscow and the West.
Russia’s Interfax news agency cited the ministry as saying that while large-scale drills across the country continued, some units of the southern and western military districts have completed their exercises and started returning to bases.
Russia has amassed over 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders, prompting fears of an invasion, especially as Moscow’s 10-20 February joint drills with Belarus mean that Ukraine is almost encircled by the Russian military.
It comes as Boris Johnson insisted there is still time to save Ukraine with diplomacy.
As efforts continued to avert a war in eastern Europe, Mr Johnson along with US President Joe Biden stressed there remains “a crucial window for democracy”.
In a call on Monday evening, the two leaders agreed western allies should stay “united in the face of Russian threats”, and will keep in close contact as the situation develops, according to a No 10 spokesperson.
The prime minister will lead a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergency committee on Tuesday as he maintained there is still time for a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis.
Earlier on Monday, Mr Johnson had pointed to warnings from the US that Russia could invade imminently, but also said there is still time for Russia to step back from the “edge of a precipice.”
“The leaders emphasised that any further incursion into Ukraine would result in a protracted crisis for Russia, with far-reaching damage for both Russia and the world,” a No 10 spokesperson said.
“They agreed that western allies must remain united in the face of Russian threats, including imposing a significant package of sanctions should Russian aggression escalate.”
Mr Johnson cut short a planned overnight stay in Cumbria on Monday, instead returning to Downing Street to chair Tuesday’s Cobra meeting, No 10 said, after the Prime Minister received a briefing on the latest intelligence from the UK’s spy chiefs.
Russian markets reacted positively to the news and the rouble, which has been under pressure due to fears of fresh Western sanctions in the event of a war, gained 1.5 per cent shortly after the defence ministry announcement.
Although Moscow has denied ever planning to attack Ukraine, it has demanded legally binding guarantees from the United States and Nato that Kiev will not be allowed to join the military bloc. Washington and Brussels have so far refused to make such pledges.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was expected in Moscow later on Tuesday to meet president Vladimir Putin in a high stakes mission to avert war.