Russia has ordered its troops amassing at the border with Ukraine to pull back, dialling down fears of an imminent invasion that threatened to pull the West into conflict with Vladimir Putin.
An estimated 100,000 Russian troops had moved to the border and into the Russia-occupied Crimean peninsula, something the region has not seen since major hostilities in eastern Ukraine in 2014-2015.
After weeks of tensions, prompting a phone call between Putin and US President Joe Biden, Russia's defence minister yesterday said most of the troops would be withdrawn immediately as the goals of what he described as a readiness exercise had been "fully achieved".
"The troops have shown their capacity to provide a solid defence for our country," Sergei Shoigu said.
Analysts said the build-up of forces may have been a show of strength by Putin, designed to rile the West and distract from the plight of Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader, languishing in prison on hunger strike.
Kiev had accused Moscow of trying to provoke fighting in the long-simmering conflict but Russia insisted that the unusually high number of troops that had moved across the country in late March to its south-western border were merely there for exercises.
Starting today, all the troops involved in drills in the south and the west will begin withdrawing to their bases, Russia said.
However, some armoured vehicles will remain in one area in the south, 62 miles from the Ukranian border, until the end of summer, when new military drills are set to begin in Russia's west.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the Ukrainian president, cautiously welcomed the Russian withdrawal.
"The reduction of troops on our border proportionally reduces tensions," Zelenskiy tweeted, adding that Ukraine will remain vigilant.
Putin responded to an offer from Zelenskiy to meet for peace talks in the contested eastern Ukraine by proposing to meet in Moscow. Zelenskiy is unlikely to travel to Moscow for talks given the heightened tensions.
Putin also reiterated Moscow's assertion that it has no role in the conflict in the east and that the Ukrainian president would be better off talking with separatist leaders who all subside on Russian weapon supplies and aid.
The sudden end to Russia's sabre-rattling came the day after Putin issued a stern warning for the West, saying that Russia will never allow it to encroach on its "core interests" and referred to unnamed "red lines" which, he said, are up to Moscow to draw.
Biden called Putin last week and offered a one-to-one meeting. The Kremlin was clearly encouraged by President Biden's phone call and felt no further need to demonstrate Russia's military might, Kremlin watchers said.
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine flared up in March when hostilities in the simmering conflict in eastern Ukraine suddenly resumed, resulting in a high number of casualties.
Satellite images earlier this week showed a military build-up in Russia-occupied Crimea including dozens of fighter jets which some Ukrainian politicians called a potential invasion force.
Moscow's redeployment should include 15 ships from the Caspian Sea flotilla currently holding exercises around the Kerch Strait.
Ukraine's Navy deployed its small fleet on the Sea of Azov to monitor the Russian exercises.