RUSSIAN president Vladimir Putin has ordered troops deployed in regions near Ukraine to return to their home bases, the Kremlin said.

The move appears to indicate Mr Putin's intention to de-escalate the crisis over Ukraine, the worst in Russia's relations with the West since the end of the Cold War.

The West has protested against the deployment of 40,000 Russian troops near the border with Ukraine, seeing it as a possible preparation for grabbing more land after the annexation of Crimea in March.

Loading article content

Mr Putin has previously said he has ordered troops to return from the area near Ukraine's border, but the United States and Nato have said they see no sign of a pullout and have threatened more sanctions if Russia tries to derail Ukraine's presidential vote set for Sunday.

The Russian defence ministry insisted there was no build-up near the border, saying the troops in the regions in western Russia are involved in regular training.

Mr Putin went one step further yesterday, ordering defence minister Sergei Shoigu to pull out forces involved in such training in the Rostov, Belgorod and Bryansk regions, according to a statement released by the Kremlin.

Mr Putin also voiced support for round-table talks in Ukraine, which were held last week under a peace plan brokered by Switzerland, which currently chairs the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.