NATO says bulk of Russian troops pulling back from Ukraine border

VILNIUS, (Reuters) – Russia is in the process of pulling back around two-thirds of the troops it had close to the border with Ukraine, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said yesterday, a far more significant withdrawal than NATO has previously estimated.

Rasmussen also announced that ambassadors from Russia and NATO countries would meet in Brussels on Monday for the first time since March 5, soon after Moscow provoked the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War by seizing Ukraine’s Crimea region.

Taken together, the two announcements could point to a slight easing of tensions between the Western military alliance and Russia over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and what NATO sees as Russian interference in eastern Ukraine.

NATO suspended all practical cooperation with Russia in April to protest its annexation of Crimea, but left the door open to contacts at ambassadorial level or higher in order to allow the two sides to discuss ways out of the crisis.

Monday’s meeting is expected to discuss the security situation in and around Ukraine, a NATO official said.

“We have seen signs of at least a partial withdrawal. Our estimate is that around two-thirds of Russian troops have been or are being pulled back,” Rasmussen told Reuters on the sidelines of a meeting of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.

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