Russian troops halt drills near Ukraine

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IOL pic may8 russia putin Associated Press Russian President Vladimir Putin. File picture: Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service

Moscow - Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered an end to military exercises in regions bordering Ukraine, the Kremlin said on Monday, while also calling on Kiev to immediately withdraw troops from east Ukraine.

“Due to the end of the planned spring training of troops that included their movement to Rostov, Belgorod, and Bryansk regions, the Russian president ordered... troops participating in the drills to return to their permanent bases,” a statement sent to Russian news agencies said.

Russian troops have been deployed in the three regions bordering Ukraine since March, much to the worry of Ukraine's new authorities as well as Western countries fearing a potential invasion.

Moscow argued repeatedly that it had the right to carry out any exercises within its borders, accusing the West of exaggerating the military presence just east of Ukraine, including near the Donetsk and Lugansk regions where separatists declared independence this month.

Russia also called for an “immediate end to the punitive operation and violent actions” of Ukrainian troops fighting the eastern rebels, demanding “the withdrawal of troops”.

The statement said Putin also “welcomes the first contacts between Kiev and the supporters of federalisation”.

Ukraine's embattled government held a second round of dialogue on Saturday in its eastern city of Kharkiv ahead of the presidential polls on May 25, which included a broad spectrum of Ukrainian politicians, including pro-Russians, but no separatist leaders.

Before his departure for China on Tuesday, Putin also chaired a security council meeting on Ukraine, the Kremlin said. - AFP

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