UK & World News

  • 7 May 2014, 18:23

Ukraine: 'No Sign' Russians Leaving Border

The US and Nato have said there is no evidence Russia has moved its forces back from the Ukrainian border despite the president saying his forces are "not on the Ukrainian border".

Russia's Vladimir Putin said: "We're always being told that our forces on the Ukrainian border are a concern. We have withdrawn them.

"They are in places where they conduct their regular tasks on training grounds."

However, the White House and the Pentagon said there was no indication Russia had moved the up to 40,000 troops - backed by heavy armour and fighter planes - believed to be deployed in the area.

"We would certainly welcome a meaningful and transparent withdrawal" White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters travelling with President Barack Obama to Arkansas and California.

"To date, there has been no evidence that such a withdrawal has taken place."

He also demanded that Russia go further than merely calling for a planned referendum on independence for eastern Ukraine to be postponed.

Mr Putin has called on pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine to delay a poll in the mostly Russian-speaking region until after Sunday, but the US wants it cancelled completely.

Several towns and cities in east Ukraine have come under the control of separatists, who are seeking independence from Kiev.

They had been due to vote on whether to leave the rest of Ukraine on May 11, in a referendum that was not supported by Kiev or the West.

One of the separatist leaders said they would consider the Russian leader's call to postpone the referendum.

But Sky's Katie Stallard, who is in Donetsk, said there were doubts about whether Mr Putin had been completely frank when making his statements.

"Taken at face value this is a real about turn. There are a couple of reasons to be sceptical," she said.

"First, Russia did sign up to the Geneva accord ... all of which had zero effect. Second there are real logistical issues with whether they would be able to hold that referendum ... so it may be rather convenient if they were to postpone (it).

"The third reason to bear in mind when you hear Mr Putin speak is, all the way through the situation in Crimea, he denied any Russian troops were involved. It was only after the event that he admitted that there were.

"I think you have to ? believe when you see it."

Meanwhile, European Union governments pressed ahead with plans to target Russian people and companies as a way of putting pressure on the Kremlin.

Foreign Secretary William Hague, who is holding talks in Kiev with the country's leaders, told Sky News the rebels' referendum was an attempt to "disrupt" national elections that are being held in Ukraine on May 25.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces withdrew from Mariupol city hall after a night of heavy fighting saw them recapture the rebel-held building.

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