MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Kremlin on Friday denied a statement by NATO suggesting Russia was building up troops on the frontier with Ukraine but said Moscow had brought in more border guards because of security concerns.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Thursday that at least a few thousand more Russian troops were now at the frontier, and called it a regrettable step backwards following an earlier withdrawal from the border.
“There has been no build-up,” Yuri Ushakov, President Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy adviser, told reporters.
He said Russia was concerned about security at the border and added: “This means just the border guards are getting a few reinforcements, and troops have been withdrawn.”
After Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in March, NATO said Russia had massed some 40,000 troops near the Ukrainian border. It withdrew the vast majority of them until just one unit and 1,000 troops remained about a week ago.
Ushakov said Putin had informed French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel of this by telephone, adding that the three leaders would hold another three-way call soon. He said Putin also planned another phone call with U.S. President Barack Obama but gave no details.
Putin spoke on Thursday with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who is trying to win support for peace proposals to end an uprising by pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine.
Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk, Writing by Timothy Heritage, editing by Elizabeth Piper