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Trains, planes take Russian army from Ukraine border: ministry

Pro-Russian militants walk to their positions to fight against Ukrainian government troops at a checkpoint blocking the major highway which links Kharkiv, outside Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, May 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

MOSCOW: Russia's Defense Ministry said Thursday that four trains and more than a dozen planes had taken equipment and troops away from regions bordering Ukraine.

After President Vladimir Putin ordered the troops to return to bases, four trains loaded with arms and 15 Ilyushin-76 transport planes carrying troops departed from bases in the Rostov, Belgorod and Bryansk regions on Wednesday, the ministry said in a statement.

Putin on Monday announced that the troops, estimated by NATO to number 40,000, were to return to bases after the end of spring exercises.

Their presence near the border had raised deep concerns after Moscow's annexation of Crimea in March and an uprising by pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Both NATO and Washington said they saw no evidence of a withdrawal after Monday's announcement.

Putin told Russian news agencies on Wednesday that the withdrawal had been announced "to create additional and favourable conditions around the upcoming presidential elections in Ukraine" on Sunday.

Asked about Western scepticism over the pullback, he said: "If someone does not see what is happening, they should look more closely."

 

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