GENEVA - Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he welcomed reports of a pullback of Russian troops involved in a military exercise in western Russia on Tuesday, though he said he had no official confirmation of the move.

Steinmeier was speaking shortly after what he termed "difficult, long and serious" talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov here on Monday.

"It is important to explore every possibility to prevent a collapse into violence," Steinmeier told reporters.

Earlier Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the troop pullback, an announcement that appeared intended to ease East-West tension over fears of war in Ukraine.

On the question of sanctions against Russia, Steinmeier said: "I think that if we don't see decisive steps in the next one-and-a-half days in terms of coming to an international agreement, for example on the creation of a contact group with which Russia is ready to work, then I think the discussion among leaders in the European Council will indeed lead to measures being taken."

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