Volodymyr Zelensky Says Russia Has Withdrawn Only About 10K Troops From Ukraine Border

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia has withdrawn only a fraction of its 100,000 troops from the Ukraine border.

"They only have pulled back about 10,000 soldiers," Zelensky told the three U.S. senators in Kyiv on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported. "The Russian forces' pullback is just a declaration."

Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said the trip was a bipartisan effort among the U.S. lawmakers to show support for Ukraine.

"We talked about the importance of increasing our ties, providing even more effective military assistance, so Ukraine can defend itself," Portman told reporters.

The Russian military said it would pull back its troops deployed to the border following the completion of drills in late April. However, troops were told to leave their weapons behind in southwest Russia near Ukraine for another military exercise in September.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Volodymyr Zelensky UNited States
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky prepares to greet U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken for their meeting in Kiev, on May 6, 2021. Zelensky told a group of U.S. senators on Wednesday that Russia had withdrawn only a fraction of its 100,000 troops on the Ukraine border. Efrem Lukatsky/AFP via Getty Images

Senators Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, a senior Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) joined Portman on the trip.

"This bipartisan trip sends a clear message that the United States is committed to rebuilding our transatlantic relations and reasserting U.S. global leadership to promote democratic values," they said in a statement.

Russia annexed the Black Sea's Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in March 2014 following the ouster of Ukraine's Moscow-friendly president and then threw its weight behind separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Seven years of fighting has killed more than 14,000 people and devastated Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland, called Donbas.

A 2015 peace deal brokered by France and Germany helped end large-scale battles, but skirmishes have continued along the line of contact and a political settlement has stalled. Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of shoring up the rebels with troops and weapons—allegations that Moscow has denied.

The Kremlin sternly warned Ukrainian authorities against trying to reclaim control of the rebel east by force, saying it could be pushed to intervene to protect civilians there.

Moscow also has bristled at NATO's joint drills with Ukraine, saying they reflect the alliance's aggressive intentions and give a boost to hawkish circles in Ukraine.
Major General Igor Konashenkov, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, said Wednesday that the Russian military would closely monitor NATO's Sea Breeze exercise, which is set to be conducted jointly with Ukraine in June and July.

Konashenkov charged that the maneuvers would serve as a cover for providing Ukraine with weapons and munitions. He warned in a statement that the Russian military would follow the drills and "respond in line with the evolving situation to ensure military security of the Russian Federation."

U.S. Senators Meeting Ukraine
From left: U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) give a briefing at the Ukrainian Presidential office after their meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv, Ukraine, on June 2, 2021. Efrem Lukatsky/AP Photo