Ukraine says Russia withdrew troops at least 10 km from border

If confirmed, then it could be a crucial conciliatory gesture by Putin that might cool the matters between the West and Russia as the ties between them have entered the bitter-most phase since Cold War times over Ukraine crisis.

By Supriya Jha | Last Updated: May 20, 2014, 17:40 PM IST

Zee Media Bureau/Supriya Jha

Moscow: A day after NATO chief denied seeing any evidence of Russian troops pullout from Ukrainian border despite President Vladimir Putin`s instructions, the Russian Defence Ministry on Tuesday said that it was preparing to withdraw its soldiers stationed in three regions bordering Ukraine.

The Russian Defence Ministry said that the army units posted in the Bryansk, Belgorod and Rostov regions were gearing up to march back to their home bases, reported a news agency.

Confirming the move a top Ukrainian border guard official said,Russia has withdrawn all its forces at least 10 kilometres (six miles) from the border with Ukraine reported AFP.

The crucial Russian move comes after President Vladimir Putin had yesterday specifically ordered Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to withdraw troops deployed in the regions bordering Ukraine for "planned spring drills".

If confirmed, then it could be a crucial conciliatory gesture by Putin that would cool the matters between the West and Russia as the ties between them have entered the bitter-most phase since Cold War times over Ukraine crisis.

However, Yesterday after Putin issued the order, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen in a tweet denied any such thing happening on ground, saying that there was no evidence of Russian pullout.

A similar claim about Putin ordering withdrawal was made by Russia earlier, but NATO and the US said Moscow hadn`t started pulling back troops.

According to an estimate by the US and NATO, Russia has 40,000 troops posted along the border with Ukraine.

Meanwhile, crisis continued to batter eastern Ukraine as pro-Russia rebels continued battling government troops in Sloviansk.

Pro-Russian separatists have declared independence in eastern towns of Luhansk and Donetsk, after holding referendums that were called illegal by Ukrainian authorities and the West.

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of instigating pro-Russian unrest in eastern towns, however Russia denies the claims.

In order to tighten the noose on Russia, the EU and the US have slapped sanctions in the form of visa ban and asset freezes on Ukraine separatists and officials from Russia, including those from Putin`s inner circle.