NATO says Russia is increasing troop numbers on Ukrainian border


S-400 Triumf air defense missile systems during Allied Resolve 2022 joint military exercises by Belarusian and Russian troops.

Russian Ministry of Defense | CASS | Getty Images

NATO on Wednesday accused Russia of increasing its troop numbers on the Ukrainian border, a day after Moscow said it had started withdrawing some of its military units.

Western leaders have warned they have yet to see evidence of such a move, after a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman said on Tuesday that some units, having carried out military exercises near the border, were already on the move.

The Russian government released video footage on Wednesday which she said showed military units returning to their permanent deployments after completing exercises. CNBC was unable to verify the authenticity of the images.

Russian officials also announced that troops engaged in military exercises in Belarus, northern Ukraine, would also return to their permanent bases on February 20. However, Western leaders have cast doubt on Russia’s claims.

Russia ‘pursues military build-up’

NATO defense ministers are due to meet in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss what the military alliance called “the most serious security crisis we have faced in Europe in decades”.

Speaking to reporters ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said it “remains to be seen if there is a Russian withdrawal”.

“So far, we haven’t seen any de-escalation on the ground. On the contrary, it looks like Russia is continuing its military buildup,” he said.

Stoltenberg added that Russia has “always moved forces back and forth”, so footage showing the movement of forces and tanks “does not confirm a true withdrawal”.

Stoltenberg said NATO allies “remain ready to engage with Russia.”

The Kremlin said on Wednesday that NATO was “wrong” to say there was no evidence of a Russian withdrawal from the border, Reuters reported, adding that the president Vladimir Putin wanted to negotiate diplomatically.

Later Wednesday, Moscow doubled down on its claims that Russian troops were beginning to return to their permanent deployments, with Russian state media. publish a report that said tanks, armored vehicles and soldiers had begun a 1,000 kilometer (621 mile) journey back to their bases.

‘Mixed signals’

But British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Sky News on Wednesday that although the West has seen “some positive signs” from Russia, “the intelligence we are seeing today is still not encouraging”.

“We have Russian field hospitals being built near the border with Ukraine in Belarus, which can only be interpreted as preparation for an invasion,” he said. “So mixed signals, I think, at the moment.”

Johnson told reporters on Tuesday that the British government would target Russian banks and businesses with “a very, very tough set of sanctions” if Russia invaded Ukraine. This would include measures to ban Russian companies from raising capital in London’s financial markets.

In response to Johnson’s sanctions threat on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow would retaliate if Britain imposed sanctions, Reuters reported.

Johnson’s comments came after a warning from US President Joe Biden that Washington had yet to confirm that Russia had withdrawn one of its military units from the Ukrainian border.

“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 threat position,” he said in a speech at the House. White.

“And the fact remains [that] Right now, Russia has over 150,000 troops surrounding Ukraine in Belarus and along the Ukrainian border.”

Warning that “an invasion remains entirely possible,” Biden added that any use of force by Moscow would lead to “incredible human suffering.”

He urged Russia to choose a diplomatic way to solve the problem.

US has ‘exacerbated threat of war’, China says

Thousands of Russian soldiers began enlisting in military exercises last week in a move that was widely seen as a show of force by Moscow. The exercises took place as more than 100,000 troops, tanks, missiles and even supplies of fresh blood had been moved to the Russian-Ukrainian border.

Moscow has repeatedly insisted it has no intention of invading Ukraine, despite warnings from Western countries in recent days that an invasion is likely to be imminent.

Russia demands that Ukraine never be allowed to join NATO and has said it wants the organization to cancel its presence in Eastern Europe. Since 2002, Ukraine has sought to join NATO, the most powerful military alliance in the world. The group’s Article 5 clause states that an attack on one member country is considered an attack on all.

The United States and NATO have said that such a request from Russia cannot be met.

China, meanwhile, has accused the United States and the West of creating “turmoil and uncertainty” by exaggerating the threat Russia poses to Ukraine.

“In recent days, the United States has exacerbated the threat of war and created tension, which has seriously affected Ukraine’s domestic economic and social stability and people’s lives, and also added resistance to the promotion dialogue and negotiation,” he added. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a regular press briefing on Wednesday.

Speaking to European lawmakers on Wednesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen urged the Kremlin “not to unleash further violence in Europe”.

“Yesterday Russia was certainly sending mixed signals,” she said. “On the one hand, the authorities announced the withdrawal of Russian troops. On the other hand, the Duma [Russian Parliament] vote for the full recognition of Donetsk and Lugansk as independent republics. »

The situation on the Ukrainian border is part of a larger, long-term problem.

Moscow annexed Crimea, a peninsula in southern Ukraine, in 2014, and around 13,000 people in the eastern Donbass region have died in an ongoing conflict between government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Russian lawmakers voted on Tuesday to ask Putin to recognize two Moscow-backed breakaway regions, Donetsk and Lugansk, as independent.

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