Russian troops that took part in military exercises in three provinces bordering Ukraine have dismantled equipment and are moving to train stations and airfields for return to their permanent bases, the Defence Ministry said on Wednesday.
The Kremlin said on Monday that Putin had told his defence chief to order troops back to their bases after drills in the Rostov, Belgorod and Bryansk regions, but NATO and the United States say they have seen no signs of a withdrawal.
NATO has still not seen any sign of a Russian troop withdrawal from the Ukraine border despite reports that Russian troops were preparing to return to their bases after military exercises, a NATO military officer said on Wednesday.
“We still have not seen any evidence of a Russian withdrawal of troops from the Ukraine border area,” the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A ministry statement said the units in question had spent 24 hours dismantling field camps, packing and preparing military vehicles and were now “moving toward train stations and airfields” to return to their bases, RIA news agency reported.
The Defence Ministry confirmed it had issued the statement, but did not say how many troops would leave the border provinces. A substantial withdrawal could ease tensions before Sunday’s presidential election in Ukraine.
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.
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 told reporters.
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