On Christmas Day, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported that a military exercise begun Dec. 1 in Crimea and around Rostov involving 10,000 soldiers of its Southern Military District had concluded, and that those troops “will march to the points of permanent deployment from their combined arms training grounds.”
The news was relayed with tangible relief by Western media reports. That’s because starting in October, satellite photos revealed Russia had been slowly but steadily deploying combat formations ordinarily based elsewhere in Russia to positions across from Ukraine’s border, doubling the number of soldiers stationed in Crimea to over 100,000, as detailed in this earlier article. It looked increasingly like Russia was preparing for some form of military action targeting Ukraine.
On the other hand, if units from the 58th and 49th armies (also part of the Southern Military District) returned to their permanent bases further to the east, that might result in a decline in forces directly threatening Ukraine.
But even then, a troop withdrawal is not clear-cut. Michael Kofman, an expert on the Russian military at CNA, tweeted “Southern Military District forces were out of garrison and forward deployed before the district ever declared a 10,000 troop exercise. Declaring it over is not especially meaningful. Careful consuming MoD announcements uncritically - the military posture is not looking better.”
Read the full story and more from Forbes.