Russia has pulled back most of its troops from the border with Ukraine, according to a U.S. defense official, as government forces continued a campaign to wipe out separatist rebels in the former Soviet Republic’s east.
A “majority of the Russian forces” have been withdrawn from the Ukrainian border, Rear Admiral John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters traveling to Singapore with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. About seven battalions of Russian troops, or “several thousands,” remain, he said. Russia’s withdrawal may be marred by a gas dispute. Talks with Ukraine in Berlin today won’t advance, Ukrainian First Deputy Energy Minister Yuri Zyukov said yesterday.
Russia is unfortunately now an “enemy,” Zyukov said in the Ukrainian capital. It “speaks in ultimatums,” he said, and the only solution to the natural gas standoff is likely to be arbitration.
Confirmation of Russia’s partial withdrawal emerged hours after separatist rebels downed a military helicopter in eastern Ukraine, killing a general and 13 troops. Ukrainian forces used aviation and artillery assets to “destroy” the rebel unit blamed in the attack, the Interior Ministry’s National Guard unit said in a statement.