Poroshenko, NATO agree 1,000 Russian troops still in Ukraine: Kiev
Russia still has about 1,000 troops in eastern Ukraine, backed up by another 20,000 on the border, NATO said Thursday, despite Kiev reporting that Moscow had withdrawn the bulk of its forces.
Kiev: A senior Ukrainian defence official said on Thursday there was no contradiction between President Petro Poroshenko`s announcement of a major Russian troop withdrawal and NATO`s assertion that 1,000 Kremlin troops remained in the eastern war zone.
The high-ranking official said Ukrainian military assessments had shown up to 5,000 Russian soldiers crossing the border to bolster the pro-Kremlin uprising that began in mid-April and escalated in recent months.
"NATO`s assessments are more conservative," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
"We are working off our own assessments, which say that in late August, there were 4,000-5,000 Russian troops (in east Ukraine). Now there are around 1,000 of them."
The official added that the Russian forces had probably only retreated a short distance from the border, and could always be quickly sent back.
"Even if they have withdrawn, they obviously did not go back to the Urals. They can return at any time."
A NATO military officer told AFP at the Western military alliance`s headquarters in Brussels that "the reported reduction of Russian troops from eastern Ukraine would be a good first step, but we have no information on this."
"The fact of the matter is there are still approximately 1,000 Russian troops in eastern Ukraine with a substantial amounts of military equipment and approximately 20,000 troops on the Russian border with Ukraine," the NATO official said.
The US State Department also called the reported Russian troops pull back "a good, tiny first step" that Washington could not independently verify.
Poroshenko said on Wednesday that Ukrainian intelligence reports showed Russia withdrawing 70 percent of its forces from the rebel-controlled Lugansk and Donetsk regions in eastern Ukraine.
Moscow has always denied sending troops across the border and issued no response to Poroshenko`s comments.