U.S.: Russia Moves Some Troops, But Still No Mass Withdrawal

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The United States has spotted some Russian troop movements near the Ukraine border but still no sign of a large-scale withdrawal, U.S. Army Secretary John McHugh said on Wednesday.

"What we know thus far is that there has been certain troop movements, but I have received no confirmation, either through Pentagon sources or NATO sources, that there has been a wholesale repositioning of those troops off the border," McHugh told a news conference during a visit to Estonia.

Russia’s defense ministry said its military units in areas near the Ukraine border had begun moving to railway stations and airfields en route to their home bases.

Military units in the Belgorod, Bryansk and Rostov regions started marching back and are expected to arrive at their home bases before June 1, the defense ministry said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies.

But NATO, which estimates that Russia has 40,000 troops along the border with Ukraine, repeated Wednesday it could not yet see any signs of a Russian pullout.

President Vladimir Putin ordered the withdrawal Monday in what could be an attempt to ease tensions with the West over Ukraine and avoid further sanctions.

However, he previously had said he'd ordered troops to pull back. The U.S. at one point released satellite images to disprove any troop movement.

Russian television on Wednesday broadcast footage of columns of tanks and howitzers towed by heavy trucks. It wasn't immediately clear where the footage was taken.

The United States and the European Union slapped sanctions on members of Putin's entourage after Russia took Crimea, and have threatened more crippling sanctions if Moscow tries to invade eastern Ukraine or derail its presidential vote set for this Sunday.

Reuters and The Associated Press