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Putin Ends Military Drills on Time as Troops Remain in Crimea

Russia's President Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, center, and Sergei Shoigu, defence minister, front left, attend military exercises at the Kirillovsky firing ground in the Leningrad region on March 3, 2014. Photographer: Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP/Getty Images

President Vladimir Putin ordered soldiers in western Russia to return to their bases by the end of the week after military exercises ended on schedule.

Putin attended the final day of the drills in the Leningrad region yesterday, according to a statement on the Kremlin’s website.

The Defense Ministry held the drills, involving about 150,000 troops, across several regions near the border with Ukraine from Feb. 26 to March 3. The soldiers are expected back to their bases by March 7, according to the ministry’s website.

The Kremlin continues to have 16,000 troops deployed in Ukraine’s Crimea region, after ousted president and Putin ally Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia. Russian forces ordered Ukrainian warships in Crimea to surrender, Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said yesterday.

The U.S. condemned the intervention as a breach of Ukraine’s sovereignty after Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, said the crisis is creating serious risks to Russian security and to the safety of millions of Russian-speakers in southeastern Ukraine. Russia has the right to have as many as 25,000 troops in Crimea, where its Black Sea Fleet is based, he said.

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