ROSTOV, Russia, May 19 (UPI) -- The Kremlin announced Monday that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the 40,000 troops stationed at the Ukrainian border to withdraw.
"In connection with the completion of the planned spring phase of military training... at ranges in Rostov, Belgorod and Bryansk regions, Putin ordered the defense minister to withdraw the troops that took part in the exercises," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
The military presence in question has been present at the Ukrainian border since the annexation of Crimea and has been the center of tension between Russia and Ukraine. Though Russia is once again claiming it is pulling back, NATO says they don't see it.
"So far we haven't seen any withdrawal at all, and I strongly regret that because withdrawal of Russian troops would be a first important contribution to de-escalating the crisis," said NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen. "There is no reason whatsoever why the Russians should mass military forces to that scale along Ukrainian borders. If we one day see clear evidence of a meaningful Russian withdrawal of troops from Ukrainian borders, I will be the very first to welcome it."
Russia said they reserve the right to protect Russians and Russian interests in Ukraine. They also insist that the government in Kiev stop harming its own citizens.
"We still insist on the first unconditional step: a halt of the so-called anti-terrorist operation, which is turning into actions aimed at terrorizing citizens of Ukraine just for their political convictions," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Lavrov added that Putin welcomes discussions between the government in Kiev and the supporters of federalization in Ukraine.