Orders Russian Troops Back To Bases After Drills Near Ukraine
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[May 19, 2014]
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President
Vladimir Putin has ordered military forces to return to their permanent
bases after drills in three regions bordering Ukraine, the Kremlin said
Putin's office said he had issued the order because the spring
maneuvers were over. The move could also be intended to ease tension
in Russia's standoff with the West over Ukraine before Kiev holds a
presidential election on Sunday.
In Brussels, however, a NATO military officer said the military
alliance had seen no sign of the Russian troops returning to their
"We haven't seen any movement to validate (the report)," the
officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.
The Kremlin said in a statement that Putin had ordered his defense
chief to return troops that had been involved in exercises in the
border provinces of Rostov, Bryansk and Belgorod to their "places of
NATO has said Russia has amassed some 40,000 troops near the border
with Ukraine, and Putin has reserved the right to send forces in to
protect Russian-speakers if necessary.
Their presence on the border increased tension after Russia's
annexation of Crimea in March and raised fears in the West that
Moscow could invade to support pro-Moscow separatists.
It was not immediately clear how many soldiers would be moved away
from border regions as a result of Putin's order. After Putin also
said on May 7 that forces had been withdrawn from the frontier, but
NATO and the United States said there were no signs of reductions.
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In another conciliatory signal, Putin welcomed what the Kremlin said
were initial contacts between the Ukrainian government and
"supporters of federalization" who want more power for largely
Russian-speaking regions in eastern Ukraine. Russia wants Kiev to
speak directly to the separatists.
Putin also reiterated Russia's demand that Kiev end what the Kremlin
calls a "punitive operation" against the separatists and pull back
its troops, suggesting the pro-Western government is to blame for
(Additional reporting by Adrian Croft, Writing by Steve Gutterman,
Editing by Timothy Heritage)
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