President Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian troops conducting exercises along the Ukrainian border to return to their home bases at the conclusion of the drills, the Russian government announced Monday. Though evidence of such withdrawal has yet to be seen, analysts are hailing the move as a sign of a "de-escalation" of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.
"As the planned spring stage of the drills, which included redeployment of the troops to training areas in Rostov, Belgorod and Bryansk regions, has come to an end, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu to send troops back to their permanent bases and to go on with their military exercises at training areas nearby," the Kremlin announced in a statement posted Monday.
The Russian government also called for an "immediate halt of punitive operations and use of force, withdrawal of troops, and resolution of the various problems through peaceful means alone," in southeast Ukraine.
Following the announcement on Monday, NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said at a news conference in Brussels that he had seen no sign of troop movements.
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However, Russian defense experts told the Guardian that troops would need 24 hours to withdraw and that Tuesday would prove to be a "test" of Putin's statement, the third-such announcement of troop withdrawals from the Ukrainian border.
"If they actually go back to home base this will be a big de-escalation because these bases are all far from Ukraine," said military analyst Anton Lavrov.
The interim government of Kiev has been conducting ongoing military operations in in the Donetsk region, where residents on May 11 largely voted for independence from the Kiev government and have asked Russia to absorb the eastern state. The government of Kiev has launched operations against what they say are pro-Russian "terrorists." That terminology, however, has been branded as propaganda by those who defend the right of those in eastern Ukraine to question the legitimacy of the government in Kiev that itself came to power in a violent overthrow of the previous government.