Ukraine crisis: Russia troops 'pulling back' as Poroshenko vows revenge for Slavyansk deaths

US officials confirm troops have withdrawn from the border, as Ukraine's President-elect vows to punish 'bandits' who shot down army helicopter

Russia appears to be pulling most of its forces from the Ukrainian border, US defence officials have confirmed, a day after 12 army forces were killed by rebels as the crisis in Ukraine intensified.

The move follow weeks of demands from the US that the Russian President Vladimir Putin withdraw the 40,000 troops believed to be stationed along the border of Ukraine's troubled east.

Officials said about seven battalions remained, amounting to a couple of thousand troops, along the east which has been rocked by violence between government security forces and pro-Russian separatists.

The US Secretary of State John Kerry remained cautious over the withdrawal, adding that despite forces moving back towards Moscow, there are still "danger signs".

The White House also expressed concern pro-Russian separatists still have access to advanced weapons and are receiving help from outside the country after Ukraine's armed forces were dealt another devastating blow on Thursday.

 

Rebels shot down a troop helicopter in the eastern city of Slavyansk, killing at least 12 soldiers. An army general was among the dead after the Mi-8 helicopter was shot out of the sky by a portable air defence missile.

Ukraine's President-elect Petro Poroshenko has vowed to punish "bandits" responsible for one of the most severe losses of life since the crisis began. "These criminal acts of the enemies of the Ukrainian people will not go unpunished," he was quoted as saying by the Unian news agency.

Mr Poroshenko is expected to be sworn in on 7 June, less than two weeks after his overwhelming victory in special balloting that was hoped would ease tensions in the deeply divided country.

In an apparent bid to de-escalate mounting tensions and avoid a fresh wave of Western sanctions imposed after Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula in southern Ukraine, Mr Putin has ignored the appeal by the separatists to join with Russia.

His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Moscow has agreed to send "humanitarian aid" to eastern Ukraine.

Pro-Russian separatists held a referendum on 11 May declaring independence following a referendum in Crimea, the results of which saw Russia annex the penesuiala.

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