After weeks of mobilizing military forces, including hundreds of planes and thousands of troops, near the border of Ukraine, Russia has pulled back its military. The move was done under the auspices of “military training exercises,” according to Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu.
“The troops have demonstrated their ability to ensure a reliable defense of the country,” Shoigu noted in a press release this week. “So I decided to complete the inspection activities in the southern and western military districts,” he added, without detailing exactly how many troops have been involved in the exercise or how many would remain stationed near the border.
The massive movement of troops and military equipment to the Ukraine border greatly concerned many western countries. Several countries viewed Russia’s troop movements as a show of force designed to intimidate Ukraine, not as a routine military exercise. NATO and the US were both on alert by the situation, noting that it was similar to the 2014 troop buildup that saw Russia annex Crimea from Ukraine.
While Ukraine and Russia ostensibly have a ceasefire agreement, there have been numerous breaches of that agreement in recent weeks. After years of posturing and bravado by Russian president Vladimir Putin, the tensions between Ukraine and Russia are becoming concerning to the rest of the world.
Tensions between Russia and the United States are growing, too. The 2016 US election and the 2020 election both saw interference by Russian-backed operatives, according to American intelligence agencies. This has led to pressure within the US on newly-elected president Joe Biden to be tougher on Putin than his predecessor.
During Wednesday’s state of the nation address, Putin warned Western leaders that his country was indeed fearsome. He noted that there are “red lines” that the West shouldn’t cross, lest they invite a powerful “asymmetric” response from Russia.
However, even as Putin boasted about the country’s military, Russian citizens critical of him demonstrated in the streets. These demonstrations, happening in spite of a large Kremlin contingent, were primarily committed by followers of Alexei Navalny. Navalny, an outspoken Putin critic, is currently at the center of a controversy in Russia.
Following Navalny’s arrest in January, he has called on his captors to allow his personal physician to treat him. Russian authorities have refused, leading to Navalny committing to a hunger strike in March that is still ongoing. His family has warned that his condition has deteriorated, invigorating his followers and leading to the anti-Putin protests in parts of Russia.