US defense officials said while aboard a US military aircraft yesterday that Russia has pulled most of its forces away from the Ukraine border, a withdrawal that the US has been demanding for weeks. They said about seven battalions remained, amounting to a couple thousand troops. US officials had estimated as many as 40,000 Russian forces had been aligned along the border, and while Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel didn't provide any details to reporters traveling with him at the start of a 12-day overseas trip, he called the withdrawal promising.
"They are not where they need to be and won't be until all of their troops that they positioned along that border a couple of months ago are gone," Hagel said. "We do know that thousands of Russian troops have been pulled back and are moving away. But we also know that there are still thousands of Russian troops still there that have not yet moved." Yesterday, rebels in eastern Ukraine shot down a government military helicopter, killing 14 soldiers, including a general. (Read more Ukraine stories.)