The Russian Ministry of Defense has announced the withdrawal of part of its mobilized forces along the Ukrainian border. It seems that the response of the Western countries and the sanctions imposed by the United States managed to discourage the Russian Federation from a further escalation in the region. By 1 May, the troops gathered at the border will return to their bases, however, the Russians plan to leave heavy equipment behind for further military exercises that will take place later this year. This means that the crisis has been averted but to a certain degree only.
The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation is set to remove some of the estimated 10,000 troops deployed. However, the Minister of Defence of the Russian Federation, Sergei Shoigu, maintains there is a threat from NATO, and that Russia will retain some forces in the region in order to react to any “adverse developments” of the Defender Europe 21 exercises that will begin in June this year.
The Russians are creating space for further harassment of Ukraine in the foreseeable future and it is very likely that another crisis may spark in the second half of 2021. In addition to that, we can expect an increased Russian activity during the Defender Europe 21.
The key issue is the real intentions behind the Russian Ministry of Defense claims that it will pull back “some” of its troops by 1 May. The question is – how many is “some” for the Russians? As far as the declaration of withdrawal is a limited success, the reality leaves many concerns over the future of the Russian forces left on standby. Having in mind how specific the diplomacy of the Russian Federation can be, one must remember that the semantics play a key role in defining their actions. Even if the Russians do pull-back we cannot count on a full de-escalation of the present situation.