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US Keeping Wary Eye on Russian Troops Near Ukraine

FILE - A Ukrainian serviceman walks in a trench on the frontline with Russia-backed separatists near town of Krasnogorivka, Donetsk region, April 23, 2021.

U.S. officials are not yet convinced Russia is making good on its word to de-escalate in Crimea and along its border with Ukraine following a weekslong military buildup, insisting it is "too soon to tell."

The Pentagon on Monday said it appears some Russian troops have pulled back, though the danger remains.

"We have seen some departure of some forces away from Ukraine," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters, adding that the U.S. military is "going to keep watching this very, very closely."

"It's too soon to tell and to take at face value Russian claims that what they said was an exercise is now over in there and they're pulling everybody back," he added.

U.S. and Western officials have repeatedly raised concern over what they have described as the largest massing of Russian forces since Moscow gave the order to invade and seize the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. European officials last week said that at the height of the latest buildup, more than 100,000 Russian forces had positioned themselves within striking distance of Ukrainian territory.

In contrast to U.S. and Western concerns, Russian officials have continually accused Ukraine of being the cause of trouble in the region.

On Monday, Russian's foreign ministry said Russian President Vladimir Putin used a call with French President Emmanuel Macron to highlight Kyiv's "provocative actions" in eastern Ukraine.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced this past Thursday that military exercises involving troops along the border with Ukraine were over and that they would return to their permanent bases by May 1.

Later that day, a NATO official told VOA the alliance had taken note of the Russian announcement, adding, "Any steps towards de-escalation by Russia would be important and well overdue."

VOA's Nike Ching contributed to this report.