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NATO: No sign of Russian troop pullback

Monday - 5/19/2014, 11:39am  ET

MOSCOW (AP) -- NATO's chief is again saying there's no sign that Russia is pulling its troops back from the border with Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin today ordered troops deployed near Ukraine to return to their home bases. And he praised the launch of a dialogue between Ukraine's government and its opponents. But he spoke as fighting continued in the eastern part of Ukraine.

The Kremlin said Putin specifically ordered the country's defense minister to pull back forces involved in what were called "planned spring drills" to their home bases. The order appeared to go further than a similar statement by the Russian leader two weeks ago that troops were being pulled back from the border to shooting ranges.

The Kremlin statement didn't say how many troops would be pulled back from the three regions along the border with Ukraine, or how quick the withdrawal would be.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen (AHN'-derz fohg RAHS'-moo-sihn) said today that the military alliance has "not seen any evidence at all that the Russians have started withdrawal of troops from the Ukrainian border."

He says NATO remains open to a political dialogue with Moscow.

Putin's move appears to represent an attempt to ease tensions with the West and avoid another round of sanctions.

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119-a-13-(Samuel Greene, director, Russia Institute, King's College London, in AP interview)-"else off-balance"-Samuel Greene, of the King's College London Russia Institute, says the troop pullback is a move that could be reversed quickly if Putin wants to do that. (19 May 2014)

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120-a-15-(Samuel Greene, director, Russia Institute, King's College London, in AP interview)-"or less permanently"-Samuel Greene, of the King's College London Russia Institute, says Russian President Putin seems happy to do just enough to keep all sides talking while still keeping a strong influence in Ukraine. (19 May 2014)

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APPHOTO XAZ110: Pro-Russians rest at a checkpoint outside Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Monday, May 19, 2014. Heavy mortar fire outside the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk has damaged a large gas pipeline and set off a fire. Slovyansk has been the epicenter of fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian insurgents, who have seized government buildings across the east. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko) (19 May 2014)

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