Russian military forces appear to possibly have begun withdrawing from its shared border with Ukraine, NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen told reporters at Montenegro on Thursday.
“Late yesterday, we have seen limited Russian troop activity in the vicinity of the border with Ukraine that may suggest that some of these forces are preparing to withdraw,” General Rasmussen said. “It is too early to say what this means, but I hope this is the start of a full and genuine withdrawal,” he added.
Earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered for the withdraw of military forces from its border along Ukraine.
Moscow has twice before called for the withdrawal of soldiers from the Russian-Ukrainian border, with NATO stating each time that they had seen no withdraw.
On Wednesday, President Putin said that Russian forces “were not on the border” but were “quite close” to it.
“Some time ago, I gave the Defense Ministry the order to withdraw them to the training sites, the test grounds. These sites are also in neighboring regions, in Rostov Region, quite near the border. But now the Defense Ministry has received a new order to withdraw them from these test grounds too,” he said.
Mr. Putin added that “there is quite a large number of forces” along the border, and that withdrawing all of them “requires some serious preparation in itself, including organizing their transportation.” He believes though, “that with good weather, they [NATO] soon will be able to see all of this from space.”
However, “most of the previously deployed Russian force remains near the Ukrainian border and we [NATO] see continued Russian exercises in the same area,” Mr. Rasmussen said.
He said though, that if Russia conducted “any meaningful, comprehensive, and verifiable withdrawal,” he “would be the first to welcome it,” and that the move would be “a first step” by Moscow towards “living up to its international commitment, especially as Ukraine is preparing to hold important presidential elections on Sunday.”
Ukraine’s first presidential elections since the ousting of former President Viktor Yanukovych in late February are planned to be held on May 25.
Currently, an interim government has been in office to help keep stability and prepare for the new path towards a greater Ukraine.
Amid the bloody violence in Ukraine that has left dozens of people dead, Mr Rasmussen concluded: “I hope we will see a political and diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine.”