Russia has pulled out a motorised infantry battalion from a region near Ukraine’s eastern border, the Russian defence ministry said.
Monday’s announcement pointed out that the battalion was heading back to its permanent base in Russia’s Samara region after completing trainings, but did not make clear whether other Russian troops near the border would pull back.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin told Germany’s Angela Merkel in a phone call on Monday that he had ordered a partial withdrawal of Russian army from the region, Merkel’s spokesman said in a statement.
The move came after US Secretary of State John Kerry said – after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sunday – that progress on resolving the crisis over Ukraine depended on a troop pullback from the border.
Earlier on Monday Ukraine’s defence ministry said there has been a gradual withdrawal of Russian troops from its border.
“In recent days, the Russian forces have been gradually withdrawing from the border,” Oleksiy Dmytrashkivskiy, Ukraine’s defence ministry spokesman, told AFP news agency.
US and EU officials estimated over the weekend that Russia’s sudden military buildup along Ukraine’s eastern frontier had reached between 30,000 and 40,000 soldiers.
Kiev’s Centre for Military and Political Studies analyst Dmytro Tymchuk said on Monday that his sources had told him that Russia had only 10,000 soldiers remaining near the border by Monday morning.
The Ukrainian defence ministry official said Kiev had not been formally notified of the drawdown by Moscow and therefore did not know precisely why the troops were being moved.
“This could be linked to a regular rotation of soldiers,” said Dmytrashkivskiy. “Or it may be linked to the Russian-US negotiations.”
Crimea economic zone
In Crimea, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announced on Monday that Moscow would declare the peninsula as a special economic zone with tax breaks to attract investors, according to Reuters news agency.
He made the announcement during his visit to the former Ukrainian region, flaunting his country’s grip on the Black Sea peninsula following its annexation.
Crimean officials have said that the local economy is facing a shortfall and needs economic stimulus from Russia.
Medvedev promised to raise the level of salaries for municipal employees and pensions to average Russian levels and to modernise the region’s hospitals, which he said were outdated.
“As a result of joining Russia, not one resident of Crimea, not one resident of Sevastopol should lose anything. They can only gain,” Medvedev promised during the special cabinet meeting.
Local officials, including Crimean prime minister Sergei Aksyonov, were also present at the meeting that was aired live on Russian state television.