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US closely watching Russia plan to draw down troops near Ukraine

US closely watching Russia plan to draw down troops near Ukraine
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State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Thursday said the U.S. is closely watching Russian plans to drawdown troops near its border with Ukraine, winding down a tense several weeks during which Moscow and Kyiv appeared poised for conflict. 

“We have heard Russia’s announcement, its announcement that it would begin withdrawing troops from the border of Ukraine. As I’ve said, we’ve heard words. I think what we’ll be looking for is action,” Price said in a briefing with reporters at the State Department. “We’ll be watching closely for that follow through.” 

Russia’s defense minister on Thursday ordered troops back to their permanent bases from positions near Ukraine’s eastern border and on Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, which Moscow illegally annexed in 2014, The Associated Press reported

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The U.S. had repeatedly expressed alarm at Russia’s military presence near Ukraine and described it as the largest military buildup since 2014, when fighting broke out in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region with Russian-backed separatists and Moscow invaded Crimea. 

The European Union estimated that at least 100,000 Russian troops were massing near the border and a Wall Street Journal report documented more warplanes, troops and equipment than had previously been disclosed. 

Price said the U.S. will continue to monitor the situation, coordinating with Ukrainian officials and other allies to monitor Russia’s plans to drawdown troops.  

“We have made clear in our engagement with the Russian government that it needs to refrain from escalatory actions and immediately cease all its aggressive activity in and around Ukraine,” Price said, “including its recent military buildup in occupied Crimea, and on Ukraine’s border and its intention to block certain vessels in the parts of the Black Sea.” 

Price reiterated support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.  

The announcement by Russia that it would be withdrawing troops was welcomed by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, writing on twitter that the move “reduces tension.” 

“[Ukraine] is always vigilant, yet welcomes any steps to decrease the military presence & deescalate the situation in Donbas. Ukraine seeks peace. Grateful to international partners for their support,” Zelensky tweeted.