Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced that the 40,000 troops deployed along the border for a training operation have completed their mission and are being redeployed to their regular postings.
The comment came along with an apparent effort to back reconciliation in neighboring Ukraine, urging eastern protesters to agree to delay Sunday’s referendum in return for an end to Ukraine’s military invasion of their cities.
Putin also gave some support to Ukraine’s May 25 election, provided the whole country is allowed to participate.
None of that seems likely, and Ukraine Interim Premier Arseniy Yatsenyuk condemned Putin’s comments, insisting the military operation against the protesters, who he dubbed “terrorists,” would not be halted.
Though it has not been explicitly addressed, it is widely assumed that the protester-dominated east will not be allowed to vote in the elections later this month.
NATO downplayed the reports of a Russian pullback, claiming they had not seen any evidence of the troops leaving their positions near the border. Even if they do, the US is still on board for the military offensive against east Ukraine as a “law and order” measure.