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Published: Saturday August 9, 2014 MYT 2:25:03 AM
Updated: Saturday August 9, 2014 MYT 2:25:03 AM

Russia says it's ended military drills criticised by U.S.

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's Defence Ministry said late on Friday it had finished military exercises in southern Russia which the United States had criticised as a "provocative" step amid the Ukraine crisis.

"Aircraft taking part in exercises have been redeployed from temporary to their permanent air bases, anti-aircraft missile units ... have started to load their equipment to depart to their permanent positions," Interfax news agency quoted the defence ministry's news service as saying.

The ministry added that the drills in the southern Astrakhan region 1,000 km (600 miles) from the border with Ukraine had shown a "high level of cohesiveness" among troops.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said this week he suspected the threat of a direct intervention by Russia's military in Ukraine had increased recently.

The NATO military alliance says Russia has massed 20,000 troops near the border with Ukraine.

Relations between Moscow and the West are at a post-Cold War low.

The West accuses Russia of stoking the conflict between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces in eastern Ukraine and has imposed several rounds of sanctions on Moscow.

Moscow denies arming the rebels and has retaliated by restricting food imports from many Western countries.

(Reporting by Alexander Winning; Editing by Dmitry Zhdannikov and Andrew Roche)

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