In an apparent attempt to halt the escalating violence in southeastern Ukraine, President Vladimir V. Putin said on Wednesday that Russia was pulling troops back from the border, and he urged Ukrainian separatists to call off a referendum on sovereignty they had hoped to hold on Sunday.
Speaking at the Kremlin after talks with the president of Switzerland, who is acting as the chief mediator for Europe in the crisis, Mr. Putin said that Russia wanted to give diplomacy a chance.
“We were told constantly about concerns over our troops near the Ukrainian border,” Mr. Putin said. “We have pulled them back. Today they are not at the Ukrainian border but in places of regular exercises, at training grounds.”
NATO officials said that they saw no immediate sign that Russian forces had pulled back, news services reported from NATO’s headquarters in Brussels. A White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, told reporters traveling with President Obama aboard Air Force One that while the United States would welcome a Russian military pullback from the Ukraine border region, “there has been no evidence that such a withdrawal has taken place.” nytimes.com