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Russia: We've pulled back from Ukraine border. US: No you haven't

40,000 Kremlin troops are estimated to be on Ukraine’s eastern frontier.

A pro-Russian militant sits atop an armored personal carrier.
A pro-Russian militant sits atop an armored personal carrier.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

BOTH THE UNITED States and NATO say they have seen no sign of Russian troops withdrawing from the border with Ukraine, despite President Vladimir Putin’s claim they have been pulled back.

“We have no indication of a change in the position of military forces along the Ukraine border,” a NATO military official said.

A White House spokesperson similarly said that there is ‘no evidence’ of Russian troop pull-out

Putin had said earlier that in response to Western concerns of a possible Ukraine invasion, Moscow had pulled troops back.

“We were told constantly about concerns over our troops near the Ukrainian border. We have pulled them back,” Putin said.

“Today they are not at the Ukrainian border but in places of regular exercises, at training grounds,” he said after meeting Swiss president and current OSCE chief Didier Burkhalter.

US and NATO officials estimate Russia massed 40,000 troops on the border with Ukraine as the Kiev government battles pro-Kremlin militias.

Putin had earlier told pro-Russian rebels fighing in east Ukraine to halt plans for a independence referendums and said his troops had been withdrawn from the border.

The Russian leader also hailed a planned 25 May presidential election in Ukraine, previously criticised by the Kremlin, as a “move in the right direction”.

Putin’s words came as fighting raged in east and southeast Ukraine, where troops were steadily pushing back pro-Russian rebels who have seized more than a dozen towns in a stepped-up offensive.

The United States and Europe were also preparing sanctions to hammer whole swathes of the Russian economy, which is teetering on recession, if the Ukraine presidential poll was scuppered.

Putin said of the estimated 40,000 troops he had ordered to Ukraine’s border two months ago: “We have pulled them back. Today they are not at the Ukrainian border but in places of regular exercises, at training grounds.”

He told the pro-Russian separatists “to postpone the referendums planned for May 11 in order to create the conditions necessary for dialogue”.

Putin made the declarations after speaking with Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, current chief of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The insurgents in east Ukraine, which the West sees as controlled by Moscow despite Russian denials, had been planning two referendums Sunday to proclaim independent republics centred on the cities of Donetsk and Lugansk.

© – AFP 2014

Read: Rise of fascism in Ukraine is being ignored by Europe, says Russia >

Read: More deaths in Ukraine as fighting rages in Slavyansk >

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