MOSCOW, May 7 -- Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Wednesday that Russia had withdrawn its troops from the Ukrainian border and called for a delay of referendum on autonomy in Ukraine's southeastern region.
"We pulled them back. They no longer stay on the Ukrainian border but are in their bases and at training ranges," Putin said in meeting with Burkhalter, president of the Swiss Confederation Didier Burkhalter and chairperson-in-office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Putin didn't disclose whether those locations were in areas near Ukraine.
While blaming the Kiev authorities for the escalating crisis in Ukraine, Putin urged them to stop "punitive operations" in that country's south and east immediately.
Putin called on representatives of Ukraine's southeastern regions to postpone the referendum on autonomy scheduled for Sunday, in a bid "to create necessary conditions for dialogue" with Kiev.
The Russian president said he supported a proposal made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to hold a "direct, equal and full-fledged" roundtable dialogue between Kiev and troubled southeastern regions.
The end of violence by armed forces and illegal armed groups of radicals was a pre-condition for such a dialogue, Putin noted.
However, the Pentagon and the White House said Wednesday that they saw no evidence of any Russian troop withdrawals from its shared border with Ukraine.
Pentagon spokesman Steve Warren said: "we have seen no change in the Russian force posture along the Ukrainian border."
"We would certainly welcome a meaningful and transparent withdrawal of military -- of Russian military forces from the border," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Putin also said that Russia should not be seen as a party in the ongoing Ukrainian conflicts, saying "the parties are inside Ukraine."
"As soon as our colleagues in Europe or the United States drive one situation or another into a blind alley, they always say that now the key to resolving the problem lies in the hands of Moscow and it bears the entire responsibility," the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.
Speaking of the Ukrainian presidential elections due on May 25, Putin said it was a step in the right direction, but one that "will solve nothing unless all Ukrainian citizens understand the way their rights will be guaranteed."
He made the remarks after Ukraine's acting foreign minister Andrii Deshchytsia declared Tuesday that it would be ready for a new round of Geneva negotiation if Russia supports its presidential election.
"If Russia is ready to support these elections and to eliminate this threat and its support for the extremist elements in Ukraine, we are ready to have such a round of meetings," Deshchytsia told reporters.
Tensions in eastern Ukraine have been escalating since mid-April following an armed confrontation between Ukrainian security forces and pro-Moscow activists, who demand a referendum on autonomy and closer ties with Russia.
Clashes between pro- and anti-government protesters in Odessa, a Ukrainian seaport on the Black Sea, Friday resulted in killings of at least 43 people and more than 170 injuries.