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Moscow 'orders troops home'

May 19, 2014

The office of Russian President Vladimir Putin says he has ordered military forces involved in drills near Ukraine to return to their bases. However, NATO has said there is no indication so far that they have moved.

Russia is withdrawing a motorized infantry battalion from a region near Ukraine's eastern border, the Russian Defence Ministry was quoted as saying by state news agencies on Monday. The United States says progress on resolving the East-West stand-off over Ukraine depends on Russia pulling back troops massed on the border. It was not clear whether other troops would pull back or had already withdrawn. REUTERS/Stringer
Image: Reuters

Putin's office said on Monday that he had ordered military forces near the Ukraine border to return to their permanent bases, a statement from the Kremlin said.

The Kremlin said "due to the end of planned spring exercises," troops that had been deployed in the Rostov, Belgorod and Bryansk regions have been ordered to return to barracks.

It remained unclear if the order will mean there are any fewer soldiers in total deployed near the border between Russia and Ukraine.

In the statement, the president's office also called for an "immediate end" to the military operation by Ukrainian troops in the east of the country, urging that they be withdrawn.

Ukrainian authorities launched an offensive earlier this month in the eastern regions to quell a pro-Russian uprising in which government buildings were seized.

Western governments have previously voiced concern about some 40,000 troops deployed near the frontier, calling for them to be pulled back. Putin was said to have voiced support for round table talks held in Ukraine under a Swiss-brokered peace plan.

'No clear signs'

In response to the Monday statement, NATO said there was no evidence that troops in the relevant regions were yet on the move.

Earlier this month, Putin claimed the troops had been withdrawn, but both the US and NATO responded swiftly, claiming there was no indication that they had done so.

Russian news agencies on Monday quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying that Russia needed to reevaluate its ties with both the EU and NATO.

"These relations require a substantial rethink, and together with our partners from the EU and NATO nations we are trying to conduct an analysis in order to better understand where we are, where our assessments coincide and where we disagree," the state-run agency RIA quoted Lavrov as saying.

Ahead of his trip to Shanghai this week, Putin said Russia sees relations with China as a top priority, with relations currently the best ever.

"In the context of the turbulent global economy, the strengthening of mutually beneficial trade and economic ties, as well as the increase of investment flows between Russia and China, are of paramount importance," Putin said.

The toppling of Ukraine's pro-Russian government followed months of protest that began after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych backed out of a deal to sign an association treaty with the EU. It led to a referendum in Crimea and subsequent votes in the pro-Russian east of the country that favored closer ties to Moscow than to Brussels.

rc/jm (AP, Reuters)