While several thousand Russian troops remain in the border area with Ukraine, two-thirds have been withdrawn and most of the remaining troops appear to be preparing to pull out, a NATO military intelligence officer told USA Today on Friday.
The NATO officer, who did not want to be identified because it is an intelligence issue, said that some of those Russian units continue to be capable of operations at short notice but the situation is different than it was a week ago.
The comments followed a statement by U.S. Defense secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday that Russians troops "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 also noted, however, that thousands "have been pulled back and are moving away."
Meanwhile, for the second time in four days, a team of international monitors went missing in eastern Ukraine, raising new tension in the region.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Friday that it lost touch with the four observers and a Ukrainian translator after they were stopped by armed men in the town of Severodonetsk in the Luhansk region.
Another team of four monitors has not been heard from since they went missing east of Donetsk on Monday and a third group was detained but later freed on Thursday. In the past, insurgents have charged that the monitors were spies.
The OSCE has had monitors in the country for weeks observing the military situation and also joining hundreds of other international groups to observe Sunday's presidential election.