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Russia reports withdrawal of some troops from Belarus

Russia said on Tuesday some of its military units were returning to their bases after exercises near Ukraine, following days of US and British warnings that Moscow might invade its neighbour at any time.

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It was not clear how many units were being withdrawn, and by what distance, after a build-up of an estimated 130,000 Russian troops to the north, east, and south of Ukraine.

The development drew a cautious response from Ukraine and Britain but prompted a sharp rally on financial markets. Western military analysts said it was too soon to be sure of the extent of any de-escalation.

“The Russians have claimed that they have no plans for an invasion, but we will need to see a full scale removal of troops to show that is true,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told the country’s commercial radio station LBC.

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, stressed that Kyiv would only believe that Russia was moving to de-escalate the situation if it saw for itself the Kremlin’s troops being pulled back.

“If we see a withdrawal, we will believe in a de-escalation,” the Interfax Ukraine quoted him as saying.

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Is Putin trying to trade?

On the same day as the announcement came out, Russia’s State Duma lower house of parliament voted on Tuesday to appeal to the country’s President Vladimir Putin to recognise two Russian-backed breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent, the speaker of the house said.

Recognition of the two regions could kill off the existing Minsk peace process for east Ukraine to which Russia has said it is committed.

In response, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine condemned the actions taken by Russia and approved an appeal to the UN, EU institutions, the Council of Europe, the OSCE, NATO, and the governments and parliaments of the world to not recognise the independence of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic.

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