Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered thousands of troops stationed near the Ukrainian border to pull back to base, in an apparent move to reduce tension as cracks appeared in the uneasy ceasefire between government forces and rebels in East Ukraine's Donbass region. At the same time, a leader of the Donbass separatist movement was reported badly wounded after being shot in his car.
According to Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov, 17,600 soldiers on training exercises in the Rostov region on the Russian border to Ukraine would move back to base. "Putin has ordered to start the returning of troops to regular station," said Peskov, as quoted by newswires on October 12. Peskov added that the troops would withdraw because their training was completed. Interfax has confirmed that military units began returning to their bases.
However, potentially ratcheting up the tension, Pavlo Gubarev, separatist leader and former self-proclaimed "people's governor" of East Ukraine's Donetsk region, is reported to be lying in a coma in a Russian hospital after his car came under gunfire in Ukraine, a source in the Novorossiya rebel movement led by Gubarev told Interfax, without other confirmation.
Prior to the reported attack on Gubarev, Ukrainian government-linked media reported that the Kremlin had sent special forces into the Donbass to kill Novorossiya leadership figures, in an attempt to hide the Kremlin's traces in the operation. Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov wrote on Facebook on October 12 that the Russian troop withdrawal from Ukraine's borders meant that the Kremlin is closing down the Novorossiya project of creating a separatist republic in the Donbass region of East Ukraine.
Putin is due to meet Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on October 17 during the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit in Italy, where they will discuss further implementation of the uneasy ceasefire in East Ukraine, which has been marred by ongoing fighting in particular around Donetsk airport. "I don't expect the talks will be easy," Poroshenko told reporters on October 12, as quoted by newswires. "Russia's role in the issue of providing peace... is difficult to overestimate," he added.
"It’s looking as though Putin has shelved any plans he had for a military invasion and occupation of Ukraine’s south-eastern regions," wrote Concorde Capital's Zenon Zawada. "The Russian government’s invasion of Ukraine has been ruinous for both countries, but [I} don’t share optimism that the order to transfer military units is a sign of surrender," he added. "The Novorossiya project is for the long term and the threat of a renewed invasion remains for at least another five years," he added.
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