Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent Moscow-based military analyst, said on Dozhd TV that the pullout is a sign that Putin has decided not to send troops to Ukraine, at least for now. Felgenhauer said that Putin may hope to achieve his targets by non-military means instead.
"They think that the Ukrainian government won't be able to consolidate despite the presidential election, and the economic, political and social crisis will escalate," Felgenhauer said. "They see no need to take the risky move of invasion, which would trigger serious sanctions."
Russia wants guarantees that Ukraine doesn't join NATO and conducts a constitutional reform that would give broader powers to its regions, something that would allow Moscow to maintain its clout in the Russian-speaking eastern regions that form the nation's industrial heartland.
Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said it was checking the information about the troops' withdrawal and urged Moscow to also cancel an air force exercise, set to take place in southwestern Russia between Wednesday and Sunday. It said the exercise — which would involve more than 70 combat aircraft, including Tu-22M long-range bombers — would fuel tensions during the vote.
Pro-Russian rebels, who have seized government buildings in eastern Ukraine and fought government troops, have declared two sprawling provinces independent and vowed to block Sunday's vote. Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of fomenting the mutiny — claims that Russia has denied.
Facing Western pressure, Putin supported a peace plan for settling the crisis, which was brokered by the Swiss chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Putin, who earlier had called for postponing the presidential vote, has now softened his stance, welcoming Sunday's election.
The OSCE road map aims to halt the violence and de-escalate tensions ahead of the vote, by offering an amnesty for those involved in the unrest and urging talks on decentralization and the status of the Russian language. The OSCE also has sent an observer mission for the election.