Kiev: Ukraine`s President said on Wednesday Russia had removed the bulk of its forces from his country, raising hopes for a peace drive now underway after five months of conflict in which more than 3,000 people have been killed.
Moscow denies sending troops into eastern Ukraine to support pro-Russian rebels battling Ukrainian forces, despite what Kiev and its Western backers say is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Moscow also denies arming the separatists.
President Petro Poroshenko told a televised cabinet meeting Ukraine would remain a sovereign, united country under the terms of a peace roadmap approved last Friday, but said parts of the east under rebel control would get special status.
"According to the latest information I have received from our intelligence, 70 percent of Russian troops have been moved back across the border," he said. "This further strengthens our hope that the peace initiatives have good prospects."
However, Poroshenko said the ceasefire was not proving easy to maintain because "terrorists" were constantly trying to provoke Kiev`s forces.
Ukraine`s military recorded at least six violations of the ceasefire overnight but said there were no casualties. Five servicemen have been killed during the ceasefire, Ukraine says. A civilian was also killed at the weekend during shelling of the eastern port of Mariupol.
Poroshenko said Ukraine was regrouping its forces in eastern Ukraine, not in preparation for a new offensive against the rebels, as the separatists themselves have suggested, but in order to defend territory from possible attack.
The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin and Poroshenko were broadly satisfied with how the ceasefire, in place for nearly five days, was holding in Ukraine. The two leaders spoke by phone on Tuesday for the second time this week.