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Ukraine

Putin informs Merkel of Russia's partial troop withdrawal on Ukraine border

Russia has partially withdrawn troops from the border with Ukraine. In a phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel President Vladimir Putin discussed the move and how the West can "restore stability in the region."

Medvedev visits Crimea

The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies Monday that after completing maneuvers in the Kadamovsky range in the Rostov border region, a battalion from the central military district's 15th motorized infantry brigade would return to its home region of Samara on the Volga.

It is not clear if the move is part of a wider troop withdrawal to ease tension between Russia and Ukraine following Moscow's annexation of the Crimean peninsula earlier this month.

During a call Monday, Putin informed Merkel of the partial withdrawal that he had ordered, the chancellor's spokesman said in a statement.

"On top of that the two discussed further possible steps to stabilize the situation in Ukraine and Transdniestria," added, referring to Moldova's largely Russian-speaking breakaway region. "They agreed to stay in close contact."

Russia has been accused by Kyiv's new Western-backed leadership and the United States of amassing tens of thousands of troops along Ukraine's eastern border.

German Defense Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Putin's partial withdrawal order was "a small signal that the situation is becoming less tense."

"I hope we have overcome the worst of the escalation," he said during a joint press conference with his Polish and French counterparts.

Medvedev's economic promise

During a visit to Crimea on Monday, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow would turn the region into a "special economic zone." The promise is part of a string of measures designed to boost the peninsula's economy.

"As a result of joining Russia, not one resident of Crimea, not one resident of Sevastopol should lose anything. They can only gain," Medvedev said at a special cabinet meeting in Simferopol, after touring the peninsula's main city. "Our aim is to make the peninsula as attractive as possible to investors, so that it can generate sufficient income for its own development."

Prior to the cabinet meeting, Medvedev visited a Simferopol children's hospital, telling staff that new equipment, including ambulances, would be provided. The Russia RIA Novosti news agency quoted him as saying that the hospital's standards "significantly differed from the average Russian level."

He also pledged an increase in salaries for municipal employees and a boost in pension payments.

dr,msh/tj (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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