Russian withdrawal from Ukraine 'tiny first step': US

Ukrainian soldiers walk near a checkpoint on September 10, 2014, near the small eastern city of Slavyanoserbsk (AFP Photo/Anatolii Stepanov) (AFP)

Washington (AFP) - The United States described as "a good, tiny first step" Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's announcement Wednesday that Russia had withdrawn the bulk of its forces from his country.

Washington was unable to verify what would be a potentially significant development in the crisis, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said, adding: "If it is correct -- but it is far from enough -- it would be a good tiny first step."

Poroshenko said Friday's ceasefire -- the first backed by both Kiev and Moscow since the conflict erupted five months ago -- had dramatically improved security in Ukraine's industrial rustbelt, where Kiev has been battling pro-Moscow rebels.

Giving a cautious welcome to the apparent Russian withdrawal, Harf added: "Of course, even if we eventually can verify his claims about the Russian troops pulling back, there would still be Russian troops that remain there.

"Obviously, any de-escalatory steps would be good ones, but there is much more work to be done here."

Speaking separately, at the German Marshall Fund in Washington, Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, cautioned that "there is a long road to go."

"All foreign forces have to be withdrawn, all foreign material has to be withdrawn, the border has to be secured, there has to be the decentralization and amnesty that have been promised," she said.

She rejected "completely" Russian President Vladimir Putin's assertion that Western countries had created the Ukraine crisis and were using it to revive NATO.

"NATO's changes in posture, NATO's decisions, are a direct result of the threat that individual allies... feel as a result of Russia's support for separatism in Ukraine, Russia's direct intervention in Ukraine," she said.

"All of us would love to go back to the status quo if Russia will do so first."