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More than 10,000 Russian troops return to base after training near Ukraine

Ukrainian reservists attend a military exercise earlier this month at a training ground near Kiev, Ukraine. File Photo by Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA-EFE
Ukrainian reservists attend a military exercise earlier this month at a training ground near Kiev, Ukraine. File Photo by Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA-EFE

Dec. 27 (UPI) -- More than 10,000 Russian troops have completed over a month of training in areas near the Ukrainian border and will return to base, according to Russia's Defense Ministry.

The military units of Russia's Southern Military District underwent combat training in the Crimea and Rostov regions bordering Ukraine, according to a statement posted Saturday on the ministry's website and Bloomberg Quint.

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The ministry said in the statement that troops were returning to their permanent bases and forces will be readied for "possible emergencies" over the New Year's holiday.

Ukraine estimates 122,000 Russian troops are within 124 miles of their border, up tens of thousands from weeks ago, Bloomberg previously reported.

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On Sunday, Russia's President Vladimir Putin told Russian news agency TASS that the country's response would "vary" if the United States and NATO refuse to make and stand by security guarantees relating to Ukraine.

Putin said the United States has moved its missiles to Russia's doorstep and wondered how the United States would feel if Russia placed missiles in Mexico or Canada, TASS reported.

Ukraine and Russia have had ongoing disputes since Russia re-absorbed Crimea within its borders in 2014.

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Recently, Russian drills along Ukraine's border have led to Western countries fearing a possible winter invasion of Ukraine.

Ukraine joined NATO as a partner in June 2020 but currently does not benefit from collective defense agreements. Putin has objected to Ukraine receiving full membership in NATO.

Western officials told the The New York Times Thursday that Russian disinformation campaigns have blamed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for a humanitarian crisis in the country's east where government forces have battled Russian-led separatists for years.

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Last week, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan urged Russia to de-escalate troop buildup on Ukraine's border.

Sullivan advocated the move in a phone call with his Russian counterpart, Yuri Ushakov, The Hill reported.

Sullivan "indicated U.S. readiness to engage in diplomacy through multiple channels, including bilateral engagement, the NATO-Russia Council and the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe," according to a White House statement on the call.

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He added that dialogue must "take place in full coordination," with European allies, and "noted that substantive progress can only occur in an environment of de-escalation rather than escalation."

The call came on the same day that a Russian diplomat demanded talks with the United States on NATO, and an arms control negotiator echoed his earlier warning of military response to NATO activities expanding eastward to include Ukraine.

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