Moscow/Kiev, May 8 :
Russia Thursday said that it has pulled back all its troops from near the Ukraine border even as Ukraine affirmed that it will continue its operation against anti-Kiev activists in the country’s eastern region
“In order to avoid further provocations, we pulled out from the border, even the tactical units which had been there for training purposes,” Russian Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov said.
His remarks came a day after President Vladimir Putin said Russia had withdrawn its troops, a claim rejected later in the day by the Pentagon and the White House, Xinhua reported.
So far, no NATO country has formally submitted any complaint over Russia’s alleged violation of its international obligations concerning conventional weapons, Antonov said.
The official said Ukraine had deployed 15,000 troops near the border with Russia and that Kiev had resumed the military draft, adding that it coincided with a NATO military build-up in Eastern Europe.
“Such actions do not facilitate de-escalation of tension in Ukraine,” Antonov said.
In Kiev, a Ukrainian security official said Ukraine would continue with the military operation in its eastern region regardless of pro-Russian protestors postponing their planned independence referendum May 11.
“The anti-terror operation will continue regardless of any decisions of one or another subversive and terrorist group,” Security and Defence Council Secretary Andriy Parubiy said.
Parubiy described the upcoming referendum on secession in eastern Ukraine as a “political fraud” and said that the vote “has no future”.
Parubiy voiced his hope that the military operation to retake the cities and towns seized by pro-Russian activists in the country’s crisis-hit regions would end “on a high note”.
In early April, the protestors announced the creation of sovereign People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk and announced a referendum for May 11 to validate the decision.
On Thursday, the pro-Russian activists in eastern Ukraine decided to move ahead with their plan to hold a May 11 referendum on the region’s independence, despite Moscow’s calls to postpone it.
“The referendum is the only way to solve the controversial issues and to inform the world what is really going on here,” pro-Russian leader Denis Pushilin said.
According to Pushilin, the working groups of the self-proclaimed republics in the country’s Donetsk and Lugansk regions voted unanimously in favour of holding the referendum Sunday.
The vote, initiated by the pro-Russian movement in eastern Ukraine, will ask people whether their regions should become sovereign republics, independent from government in Kiev.
If the referendum goes ahead, it could see the region move to join Russia as happened in Crimea in mid-March, when the peninsula and its city of Sevastopol became Russian regions following a vote recognised by Moscow.
However, Russian President Vladimir Putin Wednesday asked the pro-Russian protestors in eastern Ukraine to postpone their referendum.
In a related development in Paris, Russian ambassador to France said that Putin would join Western leaders in celebrating the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in France next month despite the standoff over Ukraine.
“French president Francois Hollande has invited President Putin who has accepted the invitation and will attend the June 6 ceremony in Normandy,” Ambassador Alexander Orlov told news channel BFMTV on the sidelines of Victory in Europe Day ceremony in Paris Thursday.
Orlov made the comments after Hollande said, “Vladimir Putin, as representative of the Russian people… is welcome to attend the ceremony,” to commemorate the D-Day landings in north France that helped to win the war against the Nazis.
“We may have differences with Vladimir Putin but I have not forgotten and will never forget that the Russian people gave millions of lives (during World War II),” Hollande told France 2 state-run television.
Tensions strained Russia’s relations with Western leaders amid the Ukraine crisis which started after Viktor Yanukovych was ousted as president in February following his backtracking on European integration.