By Justin Sink - 05/21/14 02:17 PM EDT
The United States has seen “some indications” of activity on the Russia-Ukraine border but it is too early to say if the Kremlin is really pulling back troops, the White House said Wednesday.
“Should this be the beginning of a withdrawal, we would welcome such an effort,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
Carney said the continued Russian military presence would “only serve to intimidate and destabilize Ukraine in the run-up” to this weekend's presidential elections.
The U.S. and European powers have threatened Moscow with broad sectoral sanctions if Russia undermines the vote, which would install the first permanent government since the ouster of former President Viktor Yanukovych.
On Monday, the Kremlin issued a statement saying Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered the troops to return to their permanent bases.
At that time, senior administration officials also noted that Putin had previously said that he would remove the troops from the area, without actually doing so.
One official said the U.S. would wait to see “clear, firm evidence of this move before we make any judgment” and stressed that the Obama administration had been “consistently calling” for Russia to end its “menacing posture.”