Moscow's state channel broadcasted columns of military hardware crossing a recently constructed bridge connecting Crimea to the Russian mainland, but Western leaders deny any meaningful pullback.

About 10 convoys of Russian troops and a train with military hardware left Moscow-annexed Crimea on Thursday after completing drills there, Russian news agencies reported.
About 10 convoys of Russian troops and a train with military hardware left Moscow-annexed Crimea on Thursday after completing drills there, Russian news agencies reported. (Reuters)

Russia has announced a new drawdown of military forces from the Moscow-annexed Crimean peninsula, continuing a troop withdrawal that has been met with scepticism from the West.

About 10 convoys of Russian troops and a train with military hardware left Crimea on Thursday after completing drills there, Russian news agencies cited the defence ministry as saying. 

"Units of the southern military district that ended tactical exercises at training grounds on the Crimean peninsula are returning by rail to their permanent bases," the defence ministry said in a statement. 

However, Western countries contradict Moscow's insistence of a partial pullback. 

They have warned that the threat of an attack on Ukraine was strong, with an estimated 150,000-plus Russian troops surrounding the country on three sides.

Satellite images show Russia has pulled back some military equipment from near Ukraine, but that other hardware has arrived and Moscow still has a lot of forces and equipment near its ex-Soviet neighbour, a private US company said on Thursday.

The images released by US-based Maxar Technologies, which has been tracking the buildup of Russian forces for weeks, could not be independently verified by Reuters.

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This February 15, 2022, satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows an overview of road construction and new pontoon bridge over the Pripyat River, Belarus.
This February 15, 2022, satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows an overview of road construction and new pontoon bridge over the Pripyat River, Belarus. (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies via AP)
A satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows troops and equipment at the Kursk training area, Russia, on February 14.
A satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows troops and equipment at the Kursk training area, Russia, on February 14. (Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS)

Growing skepticism

Russia, which annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and threw its weight behind pro-Moscow separatists, said this week some of its units had completed exercises in areas adjacent to Ukraine and were returning to their bases.

And on Wednesday, Moscow's defence ministry published a video that it said showed a column of tanks and military vehicles leaving Crimea across a railway bridge after drills.

Belarus, meanwhile, has said no Russian soldiers or military equipment would remain in Belarus after joint military drills that have added to the tensions.

The United States has instead accused Moscow of sending more soldiers as fears of an invasion grow. Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Moscow's military personnel are actually rotating.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss also said "there is currently no evidence the Russians are withdrawing from border regions near Ukraine" in The Daily Telegraph newspaper on Thursday. 

"The Russian military build-up shows no signs of slowing," said Truss.

"We must have no illusions that Russia could drag this out much longer in a brazen ploy to spend weeks more – if not months – subverting Ukraine and challenging Western unity," she added.

Russia, which is locked in its worst standoff with the West since the Cold War era over Ukraine's NATO aspiration, says the West is gripped by hysteria and Russophobia. Moscow denies planning an attack.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies