WASHINGTON, May 30, 2014 - Thousands of Russian troops have pulled back from Ukraine's border in a move Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called "promising" yesterday during a media briefing en route to Singapore, one of the stops on his 12-day trip to Alaska and countries in Asia and Europe.
The secretary said he had not spoken with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu about Russians pulling troops back from the Ukraine border.
"We do know that thousands of Russian troops have been pulled back and are moving away, but we also know that there are still thousands of Russian troops there that have not yet moved," Hagel said.
In early to mid-March, according to news outlets, the Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Russian Defense Ministry both announced a buildup of Russian troops on several segments of the eastern borders between Ukraine and Russia.
At the Pentagon today, Army Col. Steve Warren, a Defense Department spokesman, confirmed that at least two-thirds of the Russian forces have repositioned off the border. DOD continues to monitor the situation, he added.
"The remaining forces appear to be packing up and preparing to depart the border as well," and returning to their home bases, Warren said, noting, "We welcome this."
But the Pentagon spokesman said it doesn't change the fact that for the past several months the Russians have radically destabilized the situation in Ukraine.
"They still maintain a significant force presence in Crimea, and we continue to call on them to work to stabilize Ukraine, to prevent militants from flowing into Ukraine and to help bring a peaceful resolution," Warren said.
"The Russians continue to contribute to Ukraine's destabilization through their efforts to support Russian-backed separatists and the fact that they failed to secure their borders so weapons and militants could flow across the border from Russia and Ukraine," he added, "so we continue to call on them to take concrete steps to bring peace throughout the region."
On his way to Singapore, Hagel said, "Any time you're moving troops and equipment and assets away, that's promising. But [the Russians] are not where they need to be and won't be until all of the troops that they positioned along that border a couple of months ago are gone."
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinAFPS)