A Reuters news report published on Christmas Day indicated that ten thousand Russian troops were withdrawing from their positions near the country’s border with Ukraine, where a buildup of Russian armed forces has led to fears of a potential invasion.
Reuters based its report on Russian’s Southern Military District (SMD), which indicated on Christmas that the troops had concluded a series of training exercises in the country’s west, near the areas of Rostov, Kuban, the “Republics of the North Caucasus,” and the Crimean Peninsula. Russia seized the peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. Russian independent news agency Interfax reported that the troops would return to their permanent garrisons upon the completion of the exercises.
An Interfax report did not frame the announcement of the troops’ redeployment as a withdrawal from the Ukrainian border. In fact, the SMD explicitly confirmed that the troops would remain ready for any upcoming confrontation, precluding speculation that a larger withdrawal would soon be underway.
Troops were “returning to [their] bases after drills near Ukraine,” according to Reuters. It’s notable that the Interfax report had not emphasized the location of the training exercises as being near Ukraine. Other media outlets erroneously repeated the story reinforcing the misperception that the return of troops to their bases represented a change in the number of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border.
SMD did not mention the disposition of Russian troops deployed along the border, concentrated in the Kursk, Yelnya, and Voronezh areas. Moreover, Russian troops stationed permanently near Crimea, Rostov, and Kuban, near where the training exercises took place, are “still de facto postured against Ukraine” by virtue of their positions along the border, according to a report released by the Institute for the Study of War.
The institute noted that the 58th Combined Arms Army, normally based in the northern Caucasus, had remained in Crimea after the conclusion of the exercises.
“Western media and policymakers should scrutinize both Russian activities and how second-hand reports may miscontextualize them,” according to the Institute for the Study of War’s report. “The Kremlin benefits from Western misunderstanding of its activities.”
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.