Sunday, October 12, 2014

Ukraine/Russia/NATO: Putin Orders Russian Troops on Ukrainian Border to Return to Bases

According to The Associated PressRussian President Vladimir Putin has ordered thousands of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border to return to their assigned bases in Russia, according to his spokesman.

The Kremlin has said that troops stationed in Rostov were participating in drills, but Ukraine and the West have repeatedly accused Russia of fueling the insurgency with arms, expertise, and fighters, and have slapped Moscow with sanctions in response to its moves in the region.

Dmitry Peskov told Russian news outlets late Saturday (October 11) in Sochi that Putin had ordered approximately 17,600 troops to return home from Rostov, a southern region that borders east Ukraine, where pro-Russian insurgents have been battling government troops since April.

Previous Russian claims of troop withdrawals have been countered by NATO. In March, Russia announced a troop withdrawal of only one battalion--a unit of about 500--while NATO insisted that tens of thousands remained near the border.

In the spring, the US and NATO said that Russia had deployed about 40,000 troops near the border, though Putin ordered the troops back to their home bases in late May. 

While the US and NATO did confirm troop movements, in August they said Russia was again bolstering its forces in the region and that Russia had allowed troops and vehicles to cross the border to assist the separatists.

COMMENT: The withdrawal may be a sign of good will ahead of Putin's trip to Milan next week, where he is set to meet with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and European Union leaders.

As EU and US sanctions against Russia begin to take hold and economic growth collapses, Moscow may also hope that a troop withdrawal will bolster the chance that Western nations will revoke economic sanctions. 

Late last month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the EU was still not considering removing the sanctions because of ongoing fighting in east Ukraine.

In Donetsk, the city center was quiet, but indications of violence were still being heard in the vicinity of the airport, where fighting between government troops and pro-Russian forces continued to wage, despite a cease-fire declared on September 5. 

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