STATE DEPARTMENT— The United States and NATO say, so far, there are no indications some 40,000 Russian forces are pulling back from the border with Ukraine, despite claims by the Russian president.
Speaking to reporters in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he had urged pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine to postpone a referendum on secession set for Sunday. He also insisted that Russian military forces had been withdrawn from the Ukranian border.
Aboard Air Force One, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters a Russian pullback would be a positive step.
“We would certainly welcome a meaningful and transparent withdrawal of Russian military forces from the border," he said. "That's something that we have sought for quite some time.”
But Earnest says there’s no evidence to back up Russia’s claims.
Pentagon Spokesman, Colonel Steve Warren says, “I can tell you we have seen no change in the Russian force posture along the Ukrainian border.”
Warren says if Russian troops were on the move, the U.S. would know.
While some express hope, U.S. lawmakers are skeptical as well, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Dan Coats, a Republican, telling VOA Putin's actions will speak louder than any words.
“If he [Putin] continues to encourage the pro-Russian chaos-makers in eastern Ukraine in order to disrupt or influence that election, pulling the troops back would just be a symbol of something that we shouldn’t take a whole lot of confidence that this is going to solve the problem,” he said.
Stephen Blank at the American Foreign Policy Council says Putin’s comments - especially those asking pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine to postpone an independence referendum that’s just days away - might be a sign Russia is starting to feel squeezed.
“Well, it’s a move to take the pressure off because if there’s another referendum, there will be more sanctions and these sanctions have begun to hurt,“ he said.
But Blank says Russia will continue to try to destabilize Ukraine:
“As long as Putin is president, they cannot accept a sovereign Ukraine that is inclined to the West," he said.
In the meantime, Ukraine’s border guard has already received U.S. shipments of non-lethal equipment while aid to the Ukrainian army is still in the works.