Putin orders Russian troops back to bases, but no sign of withdrawal yet

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has ordered troops near Ukraine’s border to withdraw but there is not sign of withdrawal.

Putin has ordered military forces to return to their permanent bases after drills in three regions bordering Ukraine, the Kremlin said on Monday several days before the May 25 presidential election in Ukraine.

In Brussels, however, a NATO military officer said the military alliance had seen no sign of the Russian troops returning to their bases.

“We haven’t seen any movement to validate (the report),” the officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.

The Kremlin said in a statement that Putin had ordered his defense chief to return troops that had been involved in exercises in the border provinces of Rostov, Bryansk and Belgorod to their “places of permanent deployment”.

NATO has said Russia has amassed some 40,000 troops near the border with Ukraine, and Putin has reserved the right to send forces in to protect Russian-speakers if necessary.

Ukraine’s Central Election Commission had earlier warned the government that the continuing crisis in the country might prevent about two million citizens from participating in the Sunday vote.  The CEC said pro-Russian separatists in the eastern regions might disrupt the elections and called on the authorities to take measures to ensure security in eastern regions on the day of election.