Putin orders Russian troops to pull back

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin called on his military Monday to pull back from the Ukrainian border and return to its bases.

“Russia appeals for the immediate halt of punitive operations and use of force, withdrawal of troops, and resolution of the various problems through peaceful means alone,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

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The announcement marked the third time Putin has issued such an order, but included more explicit language than before. Putin sent a direct request to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to withdraw forces from the Rostov, Belgorod and Bryansk regions in Western Russia.

NATO and the United States appeared skeptical, noting that after similar previous calls, Russian troops had not moved from the border.

Multiple reports on Monday cited a NATO official who said there are no indications that Russian troops have returned to their bases following Putin's latest order.

The U.S. and its other Western allies have protested Russia’s deployment of 40,000 troops to its border with Ukraine in recent months, accusing the Kremlin of trying to destabilize its neighbor.

Russia’s order on Monday comes just a week after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Bloomberg News that Ukraine is “as close to a civil war as you can get.”

Pro-Russian separatists in the east of Ukraine are demanding more autonomy from Kiev. The U.S. and other world powers have called on Russia to pull back its troops and encourage ethnic Russians in Ukraine to negotiate with Kiev.

The Kremlin said Putin welcomes the first contacts between Kiev and “supporters of federalization” to lay the groundwork for direct talks.