Fighters of Social Nationalist Assembly (SNA), part of ultra-nationalist Right Sector party, hold a Ukrainian flag signed 'Freedom or death' during an oath-taking ceremony ceremony in Kiev prior to leaving on June 3. Some 40 fighters took the oath to join to a volunteer battalion of Azov taking part in Anti Terrorist Operation (ATO) together with Ukrainian troops in the east of the country. (Sergei Supinsky / AFP via Getty Images)
BRUSSELS — Russia has withdrawn most of the some 40,000 troops it had massed on the Ukraine border and those remaining are preparing to pull out, a NATO military official said Tuesday.
The official, who asked not to be named, said NATO continued to see Russian troop activity near the border but “the majority of troops have now pulled back.”
“A few thousand troops still remain in the vicinity but most of these units appear to be preparing to withdraw,” the official said.
NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen said last week that some two-thirds of the Russian force, estimated by NATO at about 40,000, had withdrawn.
Rasmussen on Tuesday called again for Moscow to withdraw all its forces on the border as a first step to de-escalating a crisis which is driving NATO to review its defense posture in Europe.
As the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War drags on with continued pro-Moscow rebel attacks in eastern Ukraine, NATO defense ministers were holding a two-day meeting in Brussels to discuss the long-term implications for European security and prepare recommendations for an alliance summit later this year in Britain.
Rasmussen said Russia’s “irresponsible actions” meant NATO had to review its defense posture as Moscow had shown it was ready to re-draw borders by force, completely changing the entire European security picture.