Troops Preparing To Leave Ukraine Border Area
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[May 21, 2014]
By Steve Gutterman
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian said on
Wednesday that troops deployed for exercises near the Ukrainian border
had now dismantled equipment and were moving to train stations and
airfields for return to their permanent bases, but NATO said it saw no
sign of a pullout.
The Kremlin said on Monday that President Vladimir Putin had told
his defense chief to order troops to pull back from the frontier
with Ukraine, where eastern regions have fallen largely under the
control of pro-Russian rebels.
After spending a day dismantling field camps, packing and preparing
military vehicles, forces in the Rostov, Belgorod and Bryansk
provinces "have begun to move toward train stations and airfields",
the Defense Ministry said in a statement.
It said troops were returning to their permanent bases, but did not
specify how many troops were leaving the border provinces and made
no mention of two other provinces that border eastern Ukraine.
A withdrawal, easing any immediate Western fears of a Russian
intervention, could ease tension before Sunday's presidential
election in Ukraine. The United States and EU hope the vote will
strengthen the central government in Kiev, which is fighting
pro-Moscow separatists in the east.
NATO has said Russia had amassed some 40,000 troops near the border,
adding to tension between Moscow and the West over upheaval in
Ukraine and Russia's annexation of its Crimea region. Relations have
hit a post-Cold War low.
A NATO military officer in Brussels said the alliance had still not
seen any sign of a troop withdrawal from the Ukrainian border.
Putin has reserved the right to send the military into Ukraine to
protect Russian-speakers who dominate in the east.
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Russia's Rostov province borders the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk
and Luhansk, where pro-Russian separatists have seized government
buildings in several cities and held referendums on secession this
month. Rebel leaders say some 80 percent voted for a break with
Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said on Tuesday
Washington had seen very small unit movements to and from the border
area but would like to see the "departure of significant numbers of
troops back to their home bases".
"President Putin said he's ordered them back to their home bases,
which to us means a wholesale withdrawal of all the forces that are
readied on the Ukrainian border. We have not seen that yet," Kirby
(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by
Thomas Grove and Ralph Boulton)
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