TBILISI (Reuters) - British foreign minister William Hague said on Thursday there was no sign of Russia withdrawing troops from the Ukrainian border and urged pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine not to hold a planned independence referendum.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called on the separatists on Wednesday to postpone the vote, scheduled for Sunday, and announced he had pulled forces back from the border.
In comments during a visit to Georgia that were in line with the views of NATO, the Pentagon and the White House, Hague cast doubt on Putin's statement about the troop withdrawal.
"We haven't seen any evidence of any Russian forces being withdrawn from the areas where they have been stationed in recent weeks. They remain large, near the eastern borders of Ukraine," he told a news conference in Tbilisi, the former Soviet republic's capital.
Asked about Putin's call for the independence vote to be postponed, Hague said: "I hope that those in Donetsk and in other areas who have been planning so-called referendums will take notice of those words and will not hold such referendums."
Hague also made clear that sanctions on Russia, beyond those already imposed by the United States and the European Union, could still be introduced.
"We have been preparing sanctions and we continue to prepare sanctions, including more far-reaching sanctions if they are necessary. The reaction of the European Union countries to these statements will depend on the course of events in the coming days," he said.
(Reporting by Margarita Antidze, Writing by Nigel Stephenson, Editing by Timothy Heritage)