Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko says Russia has pulled more than two-thirds of its forces out of eastern Ukraine.
Poroshenko told his Cabinet during a televised meeting Wednesday he had received intelligence that 70 percent of the Russian troops that entered Ukraine to fight alongside pro-Russian separatists had crossed back into Russia.
NATO has estimated that at least 1,000 Russian troops crossed over into Ukraine. Many observers believe they helped turned the tide in favor of the rebels, who until just a few weeks ago were steadily losing ground in their battle with government forces.
Russia has denied sending its troops and military hardware into eastern Ukraine, even though separatist leaders said they were being helped by Russian soldiers who used their vacation time to battle Ukrainian troops on Ukrainian soil.
On Tuesday, the Kremlin’s press service quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin as telling Poroshenko in a telephone call that he is committed to peacefully resolving the Ukraine crisis.
New sanctions still pending
News of the phone call came as the United States said it was finalizing measures to broaden sanctions against Russia for its actions against Ukraine.
The European Union has also prepared a new round of sanctions against Russia but has not yet imposed them.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Wednesday for the new EU sanctions against Russia to be implemented. She said that while the situation in eastern Ukraine had improved since the cease-fire agreement was reached, there remains a "lack of clarity" regarding the fulfillment of all 12 points in the agreement.
Merkel said the new sanctions could be lifted if all of the conditions were met.
Also Wednesday, Poroshenko said he will submit a bill to parliament next week granting parts of the separatist east greater autonomy, but keeping them part of Ukraine.
He promised special status to some areas of the rebel-controlled regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, but rejected any talk of "federalization" or total independence.
The rebellion in eastern Ukraine, launched by pro-Russian separatists in April, has killed more than 2,600 people and created more than a quarter million refugees, according to U.N. estimates.