Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said some Russian troops near the Ukrainian border will return to permanent bases after completing military drills, and called for the "de-escalation" of rhetoric over the Ukrainian crisis.
At a news conference in Moscow with Kazakh counterpart Erlan Idrisov on April 3, Lavrov said one battalion involved in the drills has already returned to base in the Rostov region.
"[Russian] President [Vladimir Putin] informed German Chancellor [Angela Merkel during their phone call] that, following the [military] exercises in the Rostov Oblast, one of the participating battalions has returned to its permanent base in the Samara Oblast. Once the other participants of the exercises are done with their duties, they will also be returning to their permanent bases."
Lavrov said "there are no restrictions on the movements of military units within the territory of the Russian Federation" and he added, "our Western partners recognize this."
The Russian foreign minister also said Moscow has asked NATO questions about the alliance's activities in East Europe.
"Our point is that Russia and NATO are also bound by a certain set of rules, including the Rome Declaration and the Fundamental Act of the NATO-Russian Council, according to which there must be no permanent excessive military presence on the territories of the Eastern European states," he said. "We addressed the relevant questions to NATO and we do not simply expect an answer but a response that would be fully anchored in the respect of the rules that have been coordinated with us."
Lavrov also responded to a question about a U.S. Navy vessel again entering the Black Sea following a U.S. warship's participation in exercises with NATO allies there last month.
"We have noticed that recently U.S. military vessels on a number of occasions have extended their presence [in the Black Sea] beyond the established limits and these extensions at times failed to meet the rules of the Montreux Convention [which restricts how long naval ships not belonging to Black Sea states can remain in its waters]," he said. "We pointed this out both to the U.S. and of course to Turkey, which is in control of the [Bosphorus] Strait [and the Dardanelles]. Our position is that all the paragraphs of the convention ought to be strictly adhered to. We will monitor it."
Lavrov's comments come as NATO announced on April 3 that it was suspending "all practical civilian and military cooperation" with Moscow over Russia's annexation of Crimea.
In Brussels, European Union foreign policy chief Catherin Ashton said Western efforts to tone down tensions with Russia continue.
"Our first priority continues to be to work to de-escalate the situation and to call upon Russia to take clear steps in that respect," she said. "We have been clear about Russia's violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, it is just unacceptable."
Ashton also said the West's relations with countries in Eastern Europe are "not exclusive" and that Eastern European nations are free to make their own choices about "good relations with their own neighbors."
With reporting by Rossiya 24 TV, ITAR-TASS, and Interfax