US Sees No Sign of Russian Pullback from Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a news conference after meeting with Swiss Federal President Didier Burkhalter in the Kremlin in Moscow, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Karpukhin, Pool)
Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a news conference after meeting with Swiss Federal President Didier Burkhalter in the Kremlin in Moscow, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Karpukhin, Pool)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has supposedly ordered his troops to pull back from Ukraine's borders but the U.S. military has yet to see signs of a withdrawal.

"So far, we've seen no evidence of a Russian troop withdrawal from the Ukraine," Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters on Monday. "If this time the Russians do withdraw their forces from the border, we would welcome that."

At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney noted that Putin has called for a withdrawal several times previously without following through, but added that "such a withdrawal would be welcome."

A statement from the Kremlin said that the troops on the border had finished their spring training exercises and Putin had ordered them "to return to their usual garrisons and continue their training at neighboring test grounds."

Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO's Supreme Commander and head of the European Command, has repeatedly said that Russia has massed about 40,000 troops, backed by attack planes and armored vehicles, on Ukraine's eastern borders in a show of support for pro-Russian separatists.

Breedlove has also warned that the Russian force could be used to sweep across southern Ukraine to support other pro-Russian separatists in Moldova.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he would be the first to welcome a Russian pullback if it happened. "I think it's the third Putin statement on withdrawal of Russian troops," Rasmussen said, "but so far we haven't seen any withdrawal at all."

"Withdrawal of Russian troops will be the first step to de-escalating the situation" in which separatists in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine have taken over government buildings in about a dozen towns and held their own referendum on breaking away from Ukraine to join Russia.

The provisional government in Kiev has continued operations to oust the separatists while at the same time preparing for a referendum on May 25 to elect a new president. The referendum also includes proposals for decentralization aimed at blunting the appeal of the separatists.

Recent polls show that businessman Petro Poroshenko, known as the "Chocolate King" for his interests in the candy business, was the clear frontrunner in the election.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@monster.com

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