Russian troops deployed to the Ukrainian border area had "shown their capabilities" and should now return to their regular positions, Russia's defence minister Sergei Shoigu said on Thursday.
Calling the mass military deployment by Russia near Ukraine and in occupied territories of Ukraine "a test of the Russian military’s readiness," Shoigu said the units were ordered to withdraw by May 1.
However, the order specified that troops departing from one large field camp about 100 miles from the border with the Russia-occupied eastern Ukrainian region Donbas should leave their armoured vehicles and heavy weapons there until the fall. Satellite images had shown hundreds of trucks and tanks parked in fields in the area.
A Russian ban on civilian air traffic near the Ukrainian border until Saturday also remained in effect Thursday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who earlier challenged Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet him in the conflict zone, welcomed the decision to "de-escalate" tensions at the border.
"The reduction of troops on our border proportionally reduces tension. Ukraine is always vigilant, yet welcomes any steps to decrease the military presence and de-escalate the situation in Donbas. Ukraine seeks peace. Grateful to international partners for their support," Zelensky wrote on Twitter.
The EU estimated that more than 100,000 Russian soldiers had amassed near the border as well as in Crimea, which was illegally occupied by Russia in 2014.
Following Shoigu's announcement, Nato said that any move towards reversing the escalation would be "important and well overdue". It added that the Western military alliance remained vigilant.