There was no sign that Russia is withdrawing troops from its border with Ukraine, NATO said Tuesday as foreign ministers including Secretary of State John Kerry gathered in Brussels.
"Unfortunately, I cannot confirm that Russia is withdrawing its troops. This is not what we are seeing," Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said, according to Reuters.
He was speaking at the start of the first summit since Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region. The occupation has triggered the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War, and ministers were due to discuss ways of bolstering eastern European countries fearful of their security.
Moscow says it has pulled back some troops, prompting a State Department official to comment that Russia might have made “a token gesture in the direction of withdrawal.”
However, Rasmussen said NATO had not seen evidence of Russia’s withdrawal claim.
The comments added to the uncertainty over Russia's moves in the region. Over the weekend, a NBC News team in western Russia saw no evidence of a military buildup.
A NATO military official said Russia still had some 35,000-40,000 troops stationed near the border and that there was no sign of any significant reduction in their numbers, Reuters reported.
The Russian forces included mechanized infantry, armored units, special forces, logistics units and "fairly substantial numbers" of planes and helicopters, the official said.
There were some exercises but other units were moving to a location and staying put. "It's an indication of troops given orders to deploy somewhere and awaiting further orders," he said. Although Ukraine is not a NATO member, its foreign minister was invited to attend.
“That's an opportunity for allies to show their support for Ukraine and to talk about the deep partnership that we have with Ukraine and its participation in virtually every NATO operation over the last 10 years,” the State Department official said.
Reuters contributed to this report.