Russia said all troops on Ukraine’s border will be gone in days, four days after Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to withdraw forces to ease tensions before Ukraine’s presidential election. The election is scheduled for Sunday.
This was Putin’s third order to withdraw troops after the forces were placed on the border in mid-March. NATO found no movement after the first two orders and saw minimal movement this week. Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov told Reuters Russia will “leave less than nothing behind.”
Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but the Baltic States are and feel threatened by Russia. Despite the promises to remove troops from Ukraine’s border, Russia told NATO that Moscow will respond if NATO builds forces on Russia’s borders.
“NATO’s military groupings in the Baltic states, Poland and Romania are being built up, as well as the military presence of the bloc in the Baltic, Mediterranean and Black Sea,” General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of general staff of the Russian armed forces, told a defense conference in Moscow.
“The intensity, the operational and combat readiness of the alliance’s troops is being increased near the Russian border. In these circumstances… we have to take retaliatory measures.”
The NATO countries voiced concern after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine under the pretenses of protecting ethnic Russians and Russian speakers. Then comments made by Russian diplomats over treatment of Russians in Latvia and Estonia raised red flags. NATO responded and supplied more troops in the Baltic States and Poland. However, NATO promised no more troops or nuclear weapons in Eastern Europe.