Russia Says Troops Readying to Return to Bases

FILE - Russian servicemen drive armored personnel carriers on the outskirts of the city of Belgorod near the Russian-Ukrainian border, April 25, 2014.
Russia's Defense Ministry said its army units near the Ukraine border have started dismantling their camps, in line with President Vladimir Putin's order to return to their bases.

As eastern Ukraine teemed with unrest Tuesday, neighboring Russia said forces in the Bryansk, Belgorod and Rostov regions were preparing to march to their home bases. Putin gave the order Monday. The presence of the troops has been a major source of concern in the West.

But a senior U.S. official said Tuesday the United States had seen no evidence of a pullback.

"As of this morning, [we see] no evidence that Putin is withdrawing forces," the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

On Monday, NATO said the alliance saw no immediate sign of a retreat after Putin's orders. It estimates that Russia has 40,000 troops along the border with Ukraine.

In Ukraine's east, one of the country's richest men, metals tycoon Rinat Akhmetov, called for a peace rally against pro-Russian insurgents Tuesday.

Akhmetov accused the pro-Russian rebels of looting and "fighting against the citizens" of the region.

The call for peace comes just days before a crucial presidential election in Ukraine.

Moscow on Monday also called for Kyiv to immediately withdraw its troops from eastern Ukraine, where they have been battling a pro-Russian insurgency.

Separatists in two of Ukraine’s eastern regions have declared independence from the Kyiv government and voiced support for joining Russia. Violent skirmishes between Ukrainian security forces and the rebels have broken out in eastern cities.

The United States and its European allies have warned Moscow that they will impose new sanctions against key sectors of Russia's economy if it disrupts Sunday's election in Ukraine.

Separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions have said the presidential election will not be held there, and Ukraine's Central Election Commission said Saturday the unrest could prevent almost two million people from voting.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters.