UK & World News
Putin 'Moves Forces On Ukraine Border To Base'
Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian forces operating along the border with Ukraine to return to their bases, according to the Kremlin.
It is the second time Mr Putin has said Russian forces are being pulled back, with the Russian President announcing on May 7 that they had been "withdrawn".
Interfax quoted a Kremlin press spokesman as saying on Monday: "Due to the end of the planned spring training of troops that included their movement to Rostov, Belgorod, and Bryansk regions, the Russian president ordered ... troops participating in the drills to return to their permanent bases."
Russia is believed to have about 40,000 troops near the border with eastern Ukraine, close to where Ukraine's security forces and separatists have been engaged in low-level conflict.
On May 7, Mr Putin said: "We're always being told that our forces on the Ukrainian border are a concern. We have withdrawn them."
It prompted the US and Nato to say they could find no evidence that Russia had moved its forces back.
Nato again stated it could see no sign of Russian troops being moved back.
A senior Nato military officer said: "We haven't seen any movement to validate (the report)."
Mr Putin also welcomed what the Kremlin said were initial contacts between the Ukrainian government and "supporters of federalisation" who want more power for largely Russian-speaking regions in eastern Ukraine.
Russia wants Kiev to speak directly to the separatists.
He also reiterated Russia's demand that Kiev end what the Kremlin called a "punitive operation" against the separatists.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russian news agency RIA that Russia's relations with the EU and Nato needed "rethinking" as a result of the crisis in Ukraine.
Several towns and cities in east Ukraine have come under the control of separatists, who are seeking independence from Kiev.
Referendums held across the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, declared illegal by the West and Kiev, voted by a huge majority to break away from the rest of the country.
Many have criticised the vote however, saying it was not organised in a way that provided for a fair and representative result.
Russia's refusal to condemn the separatists' actions led last week to the EU imposing further sanctions on key Russians and others supportive of Ukraine's breakaway regions.
Since then, separatists have continued to strengthen their positions with leaders in Luhansk discussing a constitution for a new "independent" state.
It comes ahead of a planned presidential election in Ukraine on May 25, which Moscow has said cannot be held democratically as fighting continues.