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Ukraine’s President Says Russian Troop Pullback Eases Tensions

FILE - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks during a news briefing in Kyiv, Oct. 12, 2020.

Ukraine’s president said Thursday that Russia’s troop reduction near the Ukraine border was reducing tensions between the countries but cautioned his country must remain alert.

Russia earlier ordered tens of thousands of troops to return to their home bases following large-scale drills.

“The reduction of troops on our border proportionally reduces tension,” tweeted President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. “Ukraine is always vigilant, yet welcomes any steps to decrease the military presence & deescalate the situation in Donbass.”

Donbass is a region in southeastern Ukraine where conflict between the countries has persisted since 2014, when Russia seized Crimea and began supporting separatists in the region.

The U.S. and NATO have said the recent Russian troop buildup was the largest since Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered the troop reduction after declaring an end to the maneuvers in Crimea and western Russia.

“The troops have shown their capability to defend the country, and I decided to complete the drills in the South and Western military districts,” Shoigu said.

While Shoigu ordered the troops back to their bases by May 1, he said they should leave their weapons near the border in western Russia for more exercises later this year.

Russia’s troop buildup occurred as more frequent violations of a cease-fire in eastern Ukraine raised concerns in the West, which called on Russia to pull back its forces.

Russia, in turn, has long criticized the deployment of NATO troops near its borders.

The Kremlin began conducting more military exercises as relations with the West deteriorated to post-Cold War lows over its seizure of Crimea, its interference in foreign elections, global cyberattacks and other issues.