Russia announced Tuesday that Some troops will return to their original bases After completing the exercises, a day after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russian President Vladimir Putin that diplomacy still had a “chance” — Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told CNN that Putin was “ready to negotiate.”
How important is this development?
Let’s start with what we know: The statement made by Major General Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, was very limited in detail. He said that the forces of the Southern and Western Military Districts of Russia had begun loading their equipment back to their bases, but gave few details about where these units were operating, what their original stations were, or how many troops were heading in total. Homepage.
Moreover, we know from the Ministry of Defense news releases that the exercises in Belarus involve a large number of troops from all over the Russian Federation, including units stationed in the Eastern Military District of Russia – several time zones east of European Russia, a vast area bordered by the edge Eastern Pacific.
Remember that Russia is a huge country that spans 11 time zones. Its army divides the province into five administrative districts: the Western, Southern, Central, and Eastern Provinces, and the Northern Fleet. You can See it all on the map here.
The forces that left the exercises in Crimea – which Russia annexed in 2014 – were technically practicing within Russia’s southern military district. It is possible that the troops of the Southern Military District will return to the bases in the North Caucasus or the Rostov region.
So, Tuesday’s statements give us very little formal evidence about how important the move is: It can easily be a rotation – as new forces fall – or a gradual withdrawal after exercises. Konashenkov explained that the current Russian exercises at sea have a somewhat global reach, as they are taking place in “operationally important areas of the world’s oceans” and in the waters adjacent to the Russian territory.
There are things to watch out for in the coming days. Putin and Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko are scheduled to meet this week, and we might get some hints about when exercises in Belarus will end — and when Russian soldiers will return home.
Asked whether a decision on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Belarus would be taken during that meeting, Kremlin spokesman Peskov said: “Let’s not jump forward. Let’s wait for the meeting.”
Meanwhile, some Western officials were skeptical of the Russian forces’ announcement and said there was no evidence that a de-escalation of the crisis was imminent.
“The signals coming from Moscow about a willingness to continue engaging in diplomatic efforts … give some reason for cautious optimism. But of course we will be watching closely what is happening on the ground and whether this is reflected in some real regression in NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on Tuesday, “Russian military build-up all over Ukraine.”