Monday. 17.06.2024
NATO-RUSSIA TENSIONS

Russia says more soldiers returning from Ukraine border

The move raised a glimmer of hope that the crisis along Ukraine's border was easing after weeks of intense diplomacy and threats by the West of punishing sanctions should Russia invade

HANDOUT - 15 February 2022, Russia, Moscow: A general view during a plenary session at the Russia's lower house of parliament (State Duma). Russian lawmakers on Tuesday called on President Vladimir Putin to recognize the two breakaway eastern Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as "people's republics." Photo: -/Russian parliament/dpa - ATTENTION: editorial use only and only if the credit mentioned above is referenced in full.
A general view during a plenary session at the Russia's lower house of parliament (State Duma). Russian lawmakers on Tuesday called on President Vladimir Putin to recognize the two breakaway eastern Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as "people's republics." Photo: Russian parliament.

Russia's pullback of forces near Ukraine was continuing on Wednesday following the end of military exercises, the Defence Ministry in Moscow said, a claim Kiev and Western capitals call difficult to take seriously.

Several units involved in manoeuvres on the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which illegally Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, have now returned to their bases, according to Moscow.

The state news agency Ria Novosti released a video showing a platoon of tanks and other military vehicles travelling in darkness over the Crimean Bridge that connects the peninsula to mainland Russia.

The Defence Ministry gave little information on the type of forces being withdrawn and how many troops were involved.

In a similar announcement on Tuesday, the ministry said some troops that had been posted to the southern and western military districts - near Ukraine - were being pulled back after the end of drills.

The move raised a glimmer of hope that the crisis along Ukraine's border was easing after weeks of intense diplomacy and threats by the West of punishing sanctions should Russia invade.

But scepticism of Moscow's intentions remains high. Ukraine, the United States, European powers and NATO all suggested they could not take Russia at face value and needed independent confirmation.

And other manoeuvres that have caused alarm continue, such as Russian military exercises in Belarus, which also borders Ukraine.

"We have not yet verified that Russian military units are returning to their home bases. Indeed, our analysts indicate that they remain very much in a threatening position," US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday.

Security demands

The US said this week it believed there were 130,000 troops amassed near Ukraine and that an attack could take place at any time.

The Kremlin denies having any intention of invading Ukraine and says it is within its rights to deploy troops anywhere on its territory.

Furthermore, it counters that in order to defuse the crisis the US and NATO must meet Moscow's far-reaching security demands, such as an ironclad promise that the Western military alliance will not expand further eastward. That proposal has been repeatedly shot down.

The defence ministers of the 30 NATO countries - including US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin - will discuss plans for additional deterrence against Russia later on Wednesday in Brussels.

NATO allies have been sending more ships, fighter jets and troops into Eastern Europe and putting other soldiers on standby.

Meanwhile, Ukraine was marking a "day of unity" on Wednesday.

President Volodymyr Zelensky declared the day earlier this week after reports in US media cited February 16 as a day Russia could launch an attack.

Russia says more soldiers returning from Ukraine border