We've heard this one before. For the third time in as many months, President Vladimir Putin says he's ordered Russian military forces to pull back from the Ukrainian border.
It's believed some 40,000 Russian forces were massed along Ukraine's eastern border for the past few months. NATO says so far, it's seen no signs of any troop withdrawal. (Via CBS)
Russia's Defense Ministry insists the troops are there for military exercises but Western leaders feared Russia was preparing for a possible invasion of Ukraine. (Via ITN)
The BBC's Jonathan Marcus says this confusion was never an issue of command and control. "President Vladimir Putin clearly decided that, whatever the public pronouncements, the threat of 40,000 troops on Ukraine's border was a powerful tool whether they were used or not."
It's unclear to analysts right now whether Putin's latest remarks mean he's following through on his previous pledges. But if he were, some argue it would at least for now take Russian military intervention off the table.
RORY CHALLANDS, AL JAZEERA CORRESPONDENT: "If the troops do start pulling back, I think what it means is, at least militarily, tensions are easing somewhat … The invasion of Ukraine has been temporarily canceled."
As one expert told Bloomberg, "Both sides now are probably waiting to see the outcome of the presidential election next weekend and how this leaves the lay of the land."
Putin’s remarks come less than a week before Ukraine holds its presidential elections. An acting government has been running Ukraine since its pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted in February. (Via Euronews)
The U.S. and the E.U. have vowed to impose further sanctions on Russia and members of Putin's inner circle if Moscow does anything to disrupt the election.