MOSCOW (CBS News/CBSDC/AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered troops deployed in regions near Ukraine to return to their home bases, the Kremlin said Monday.
The move appears to indicate Putin’s intention to de-escalate the crisis over Ukraine, the worst in Russia’s relations with the West since the end of the Cold War.
The West has protested the deployment of 40,000 Russian troops near the border with Ukraine, seeing it as a possible preparation for grabbing more land after the annexation of Crimea in March.
Putin has previously said he has ordered troops to return from the area near the Ukraine border, but the United States and NATO have said they see no sign of a pullout and have threatened more sanctions if Russia tries to derail Ukraine’s presidential vote set for Sunday.
Speaking to the Reuters news agency Monday about the reports of Putin’s new order, an unnamed NATO officer said the military coalition had still not seen any evidence that Russian forces were pulling back from the border.
“We haven’t seen any movement to validate (the report),” the officer told Reuters on the condition of anonymity.
The Russian Defense Ministry insisted that there were no buildup near the border, saying that the troops in the regions in western Russia are involved in regular training.
Putin went one step further Monday, ordering Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to pull out forces involved in such training in the Rostov, Belgorod and Bryansk regions, according to a statement released by the Kremlin.
Putin also voiced support for round tables in Ukraine, which were held last week under a peace plan brokered by Switzerland, which currently chairs the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
He urged the Ukrainian authorities to immediately end a military operation in eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian army and police have sought to put down a pro-Russian rebellion in the east.
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