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Putin Pulls Troops from Training Near Crimea

16,000 troops in Crimea still stationed there, but Putin pulls new trainees back from Russia-Ukraine border after sanctions threats fly.
By Tova Dvorin
First Publish: 3/4/2014, 9:26 AM

Russian tank
Russian tank
Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered troops training near the Ukrainian border to return to their permanent bases, according to AP and Interfax. It is unclear what meaning, if any, should be ascribed to the move.

The news surfaces mere hours after the Washington Post reported that Moscow had presented Kiev with an ultimatum overnight: accept Crimea's pro-Russian government now - or suffer the consequences. 

The Russian Foreign Ministry called the rumors of an ultimatum "utter nonsense" on Tuesday and insisted that no new threats had been leveled at the embattled state. However, the Post notes that Russian naval ships began surrounding several Ukrainian security posts along the Crimean coast, sending a clear message to Kiev that the conflict would not be abated in the near future. 

“Provocations with killing of three to four Russian soldiers are planned on the territory of Crimea tonight,” said Ukrainian Deputy Interior Minister Mykola Velichkovych, the ministry’s press service reported.

Velichkovych called on the Russians to halt the invasion.  “We call on you to come to your senses. We call on you to stop.”

On Monday, Kiev announced that Moscow had ordered two of its ships to surrender off the Crimean coast by 5:00 am Tuesday morning. That deadline has now passed without a surrender, and so far without incident. 

The news is the latest development in the crisis in the Crimean peninsula, which exploded over the weekend after 6,000 Russian troops invaded an airport in the Russian-speaking Ukrainian province.

Troops reportedly continued to pour into the region, which has a pro-Russian government. Ukrainian Ambassador to the UN stated Monday night that at least 16,000 Russian troops had been stationed along the Crimean coast; military experts have estimated that the number may be as high as 30,000, including support staff. 

Economic pressure/sanctions

The US and the international community continue to discuss the possibility of enacting sanctions on Moscow to stop the conflict from mushrooming further. CNN noted early Tuesday that while deliberations over the sanctions continue, the idea proves promising - at least, on paper.

According to the news site, Russia has become overly reliant on foreign interests to sustain its economy: 50% of its imports stem from the EU as well as 75% of its foreign investments. Sanctions could dramatically increase pressure on Moscow, which is already reeling from a falling stock market. 

China's Reaction

Not every international body disapproves of Russian President Vladimir Putin's actions, however. Russia's longtime ally China has indicated support for the Crimean invasion Tuesday - if not in practice, than at least in principle.