BERLIN, March 31 (Reuters) - A reduction in the number of Russian troops deployed on the border with Ukraine is a small sign that the stand-off over Crimea is becoming less tense, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Monday.
"I hope we have overcome the worst escalation," Steinmeier told a joint news conference with his French and Polish counterparts.
"Only today there was news that the massive build-up of Russian forces on the east Ukraine border had been slightly reduced. That seems to be a small signal that the situation is become less tense."
He said Europe had to ensure that no further parts of Ukraine were annexed by Russia and this would involve not just the threat of sanctions but also continuing dialogue.
Earlier, a Ukrainian Defence Ministry official said the number of number of Russian soldiers on the border with Ukraine was decreasing but he cautioned this might reflect a scheduled rotation of conscripts rather than a withdrawal.
(Reporting by Stephen Brown, writing by Annika Breidthardt; Editing by Gareth Jones)