Russia says it returns some troops to base in areas near Ukraine

MOSCOW, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Some troops in Russia's military districts adjacent to Ukraine are returning to their bases after completing drills, Russia's defence ministry said on Tuesday, a move that could de-escalate frictions between Moscow and the West.

A ministry spokesman said in a video published online that while large-scale drills across the country continued, some units of the Southern and Western military districts have completed their exercises and started returning to base.

Video footage published by the defence ministry showed some tanks and other armoured vehicles being loaded onto railway flatcars.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Kyiv would "believe in de-escalation" only after it sees Russia's pullout, the Interfax Ukraine news agency reported.

A tank of Russian armed forces drives during military exercises in the Leningrad Region, Russia, in this handout picture released February 14, 2022. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS

"We continously hear different statements from the Russian federation, so we have a rule ... we believe what we see. If we see the pullout we will believe in deescalation," the report quoted Kuleba as saying.

Russia has amassed over 100,000 troops near Ukraine's borders, prompting fears of an invasion, especially as Moscow's Feb. 10-20 joint drills with Belarus mean that Ukraine is almost encircled by the Russian military.

Russian markets reacted positively to the news and the rouble , which has been under pressure due to fears of fresh Western sanctions in the event of a war, gained 1.5% shortly after the defence ministry announcement.

Although Moscow has denied ever planning to attack Ukraine, it has demanded legally binding guarantees from the United States and NATO that Kyiv will not be allowed to join the military bloc. Washington and Brussels have so far refused to make such pledges.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was expected in Moscow later on Tuesday to meet President Vladimir Putin in a high stakes mission to avert war. read more

Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Aleksandar Vasovic in Kyiv Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Raju Gopalakrishnan, William Maclean

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