“There’s been no evidence that such a withdrawal has taken place.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Obama administration Wednesday cast doubt on Russia’s announcement that it has pulled back troops from its border with Ukraine and said that Russia must do more to diffuse tensions in the country.
“We were told repeatedly that there were concerns over our troops on the border with Ukraine, so we pulled them back,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin while speaking to the media in Moscow on Wednesday.
Both the U.S. and NATO, however, said they did not detect any movement of Russian forces following the announcement.
“We would certainly welcome a meaningful and transparent withdrawal of Russian military forces from the border,” said Josh Earnest, the White House’s principal press secretary while speaking to the press aboard Air Force One Wednesday, according to a transcript. “To date, there’s been no evidence that such a withdrawal has taken place.”
The U.S. State Department cautiously welcomed comments from Putin stating that Ukraine’s presidential elections scheduled for May 25 are a step in the right direction.
“It is a helpful step,” said Jen Psaki, the U.S. State Department spokesperson while speaking to reporters Wednesday. “But again, there is far more that President Putin and the Russians can do to de-escalate the situation and to ensure safe elections.”
Ukrainian forces continue to clash with pro-Russian separatists in the east and south of the country as they attempt to retake occupied government buildings and public spaces. The rebels downed at least two Ukrainian helicopters during fighting in eastern Ukraine.
The tumult has cast doubts on the nationwide presidential elections currently scheduled for the end of the month.
Earlier this week, separatists in Luhansk and Donetsk called for a referendum on May 11 to potentially break away from Ukraine and form an independent republic. The Russian President called for the poll to be postponed to allow time for negotiations between the central government in Kiev and separatists to resolve the ongoing crisis.
Psaki again rejected the validity of any planned referendum, saying, “We've made clear that we believe the proposed May 11th referendum are both illegal and illegitimate, and we need to see more from President Putin than simply calling for it to be postponed.”
Earnest further called on Russia to match its words with actions saying, “What we’re focused on most right now are actions. And President Putin committed to a few important actions in Geneva.”
Ukraine, the U.S., the EU and Russia agreed to a landmark accord on April 17 in Geneva that called on all parties to refrain from violence and provocative acts, and called on all armed groups to disarm and leave occupied government buildings in exchange for amnesty.
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