NATO says around 1,000 Russian troops remain inside Ukraine – a day after Ukraine’s president reported that most of the Russian forces assisting separatists there had returned home.
President Petro Poroshenko said Wednesday that 70 percent of the Russian troops in Ukraine had crossed back over the border, raising hopes the cease-fire agreement reached last week would hold.
A NATO military officer said Thursday the alliance has no information to that effect. The unnamed officer said such a development would be “a good first step.”
The officer said there are also still “substantial amounts of military equipment” in eastern Ukraine, and approximately 20,000 troops on the Russian side of the border.
Moscow has denied sending its troops and military hardware into Ukraine, even though separatist leaders said they were being helped by Russian soldiers who used their vacation time to battle Ukrainian troops on Ukrainian soil.
Many observers believe the intervention of Russian forces in the fighting in eastern Ukraine turned the tide in favor of the rebels, who until just a few weeks ago were losing ground to government forces.
Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council reported Thursday that separatist forces have extended the territory they control along Ukraine’s border with Russia southward to the Sea of Azov.