Russia has denied allegations from Ukraine that it left troops behind in Belarus after staging military exercises there, despite Moscow's pledge not to do so.
“As far as the Russian troops which took part in the joint strategic exercises, Zapad (West) 2017, they all returned to their permanent bases,” Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in an e-mailed statement late on September 30.
The denial came after Viktor Muzhenko, the Ukrainian military's chief of staff, made the claim in a September 29 interview with Reuters that threatens to heighten tensions between Moscow and Kyiv, which have been locked in a standoff over Russia's 2014 seizure of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and its backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The September 14-20 war games in Belarus and parts of western Russia triggered concerns in neighboring NATO nations already wary of Moscow's intentions after its annexation of Crimea and military interference in eastern Ukraine.
Moscow and Minsk said the maneuvers involved some 12,700 troops in the two countries combined, but Western officials have said the true number may have been around 100,000.
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on the final day of the exercises that all Russian troops involved in the drills would leave Belarus.
The Belarusian Defense Ministry has said that the last train of Russian troops who participated in the Zapad 2017 military drills left Belarus on September 28.