Ukrainian defense officials were cautiously optimistic about the prospect for de-escalation after observing the reduced troop levels on Monday, but said there was no evidence Russia was ready to back down entirely.
Ukrainian Maj. Gen. Oleksandr Rozmaznin told journalists the drop in numbers might reflect a scheduled rotation of conscripts rather than a withdrawal.
"The number has definitely dropped and [the situation] has calmed down. We won't rejoice and shout 'Hurray'. It doesn't matter how many of them there are, we just need to make sure our defenses are strong," he said.
Oleksiy Dmytrashkivskiy, Ukraine's defense ministry spokesman, said he could not confirm how many soldiers the drawdown involved or the number of troops still stationed at Russia's border with its former Soviet satellite. But Dmytro Tymchuk, analyst with Kiev's Centre for Military and Political Studies, said his sources had told him Russia had only 10,000 soldiers remaining near the border by Monday morning.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Paris on Sunday for talks that reached no breakthrough on the crisis but ended with an agreement for the sides to resume negotiations again soon.
During that meeting, Lavrov said he pressed Russia's call for a federal Ukraine consisting of regions free to choose their own economic model, language and religion.
Kerry said he agreed to work with the Ukraine government on those issues, but called for the removal of "illegal and illegitimate" Russian troops in Crimea, which he said were responsible for creating a climate of intimidation in mainland Ukraine.
In the Monday phone call with Merkel, Putin reiterated his call for a “comprehensive solution” that would also lift a “blockade” on Transnistria, confirming the prevailing assumption that Putin has sought to leverage the threat of invasion in order to achieve other geopolitical aims.