A Russian Navy patrol boat and troops are seen during a military exercise in Crimea on Thursday. Russian officials began withdrawing forces from the region on Friday. Photo by Russian Defense Ministry/EPA-EFE
April 23 (UPI) -- Russia started withdrawing troops Friday along the Ukraine border after Moscow completed military exercises that sparked new tensions between both governments.
Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu said thousands of troops who'd deployed to southern and western Russia for weeks of exercises -- including along the border with Crimea -- will now return to their home bases.
"In accordance with the instruction of Russian defense minister and army Gen. Sergei Shoigu, the forces of the southern military district and airborne troops ... have begun to return to their permanent stations [today]," the defense ministry said Friday, according to the state-run TASS news agency.
Andriy Yermak, head of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's office, said it was pressure from Ukraine and the West that led to Russian withdrawing its troops. The drawdown of forces was announced on Thursday.
"We're working not for the sake of [public relations], but for the sake of our country and our people," Yermak said, according to Unian.info.
Thursday, Shoigu said Russian military objectives with the exercises had been "fully achieved" and that troops would be entirely withdrawn over the coming weeks.
The military buildup created tensions between Russia and Ukraine, particularly in Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014 -- a move that drew international condemnation and sanctions from the United States. The buildup occurred during intense fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia separatists in the region.
Zelensky and NATO both applauded Russia's decision on Thursday to begin the withdrawal.