MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly has ordered troops participating in military exercises in western Russia near the Ukraine border to return to their permanent bases.
That's what a Putin spokesman tells the Interfax news agency. The order comes almost a week after Russia began massive exercises involving most military units in western Russia, stoking fears that the Kremlin might use the troops to seize territory in pro-Russian areas of eastern Ukraine.
Russian troops said to be 16,000 strong tightened their stranglehold on Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula over the weekend, openly defying calls by the U.S. and European Union to withdraw from the region.
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