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Russian President Vladimir Putin's office said Monday that Putin had ordered all Russian troops purportedly conducting military exercises along Ukraine's eastern border to return to their bases. NATO tells Reuters that, as with the previous times Russia has said it is pulling back, the Western military alliance has seen no evidence of Russia's 40,000 troops along the border returning to their barracks.
Putin's office said the troops are pulling back simply because spring training exercises are done. Few people outside Russia are buying that, but the speculation for Putin's motives runs the gamut. The New York Times' David M. Herszenhorn suggests that Putin is softening his stance to get off on the right foot with the heavily favored candidate in next Sunday's presidential election in Ukraine: Billionaire confection magnate Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine's pro-West Chocolate King who also had stints in the cabinets of the past two presidents, including the recently ousted Viktor Yanukovych.
"The reasoning on Poroshenko is that he is a pragmatist and he was in the Yanukovych government," the Atlantic Council's Adrian Karatnycky tells The New York Times. "He is a person who is a dealmaker. From that point of view, it may mean that Putin is willing to give it a chance of trying to get something out of this." Also, Poroshenko's company has extensive commercial ties to Russia.