Despite Moscow’s assurance that it was pulling back, the US and NATO said Russia was still building up soldiers surrounding Ukraine on Wednesday, casting doubt on President Vladimir Putin’s stated desire to negotiate a solution to the conflict.
The government of Ukraine said a cyberattack on the defence ministry was the worst of its kind the country had seen, with residents raising flags and playing the national hymn to show togetherness in the face of fears of an invasion. Russia was singled out for blame, but the country denied any involvement.
Russia’s defence ministry said its forces were pulling down following drills in southern and western military districts near Ukraine, as part of a massive buildup that has been accompanied by requests to the West for sweeping security guarantees.
It released footage purporting to show tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and self-propelled artillery battalions departing the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
However, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that major Russian units were advancing towards, not away from, the border.
“That’s what Russia has to say about it. Then there’s Russia’s behaviour. And we haven’t seen any signs of a retreat in its forces “In an interview with MSNBC, Blinken added. “We’re still seeing important troops heading toward the border, not away from it.”
The potential of Russian aggression against Ukraine will remain high throughout the rest of February, according to a senior Western intelligence officer, and Russia might attack Ukraine “with practically no, or little-to-no, notice.”
Moving troops and tanks back and forth, according to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, does not constitute indication of a departure.
“We can see that they’ve boosted the amount of troops on the ground, and more are on their way. So far, there has been no de-escalation “Before a summit of the alliance in Brussels, he remarked.
Later, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated that satellite imagery might be used to establish Russia’s failure to withdraw its forces.
In an interview with Reuters, Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said his country’s latest intelligence report revealed no signs of a Russian retreat. He estimated that Russian military and pro-Russian separatist groups near Ukraine’s borders were around 140,000 people.
NATO’s assessment, according to the Kremlin, is incorrect. In three to four weeks, Moscow’s envoy to Ireland claimed, forces in western Russia would be back in their customary posts.
Russia claims it had no intention of attacking Ukraine, but it wants to draw “red lines” to prevent its neighbour from joining NATO, which it regards as a threat to its own security.
Putin, according to the Kremlin, is eager to negotiate with the US, which has offered talks on arms control and confidence-building measures while ruling out a veto over Ukraine’s potential NATO membership.
However, Russia indicated it would be prepared to divert energy exports to other markets if sanctions were imposed, as Washington and its allies have promised if Russia invades Ukraine.
Sanctions against Russian banks would be “unpleasant,” according to Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, but the government would ensure that all bank deposits and transactions were secure.
After repeated warnings of a probable strike and suggestions in certain Western media that it will happen on Wednesday, Moscow has accused Washington of frenzied war mongering.
Field hospitals and fuel stockpiles would be disassembled, according to military analysts, and units from Russia’s far east, which are participating in drills in Belarus this week, would return to bases thousands of miles away.
Mark Galeotti, a Russia security expert, said the lack of an attack did not indicate “Putin flinched.”
He remarked on Twitter, “Putin might have invaded yesterday, and he can still do so tomorrow.”
As investors reacted cautiously to the ongoing tensions, world markets crept higher, while oil and gold gained.