The United States and NATO has rejected Russia’s claim that it has withdrawn some units from Ukraine‘s border.
On Thursday, Russia’s Defense Ministry published a video it said showed troops and military equipment returning from Crimea to their permanent bases after drills.
The US and NATO however says Russia ws still building up troops around Ukraine despite Moscow’s insistence it was pulling back.
“We now know it was false,” a US official said, adding that as many as 7,000 Russian troops have joined the 150,000 already near the border in recent days.
“We haven’t seen a pullback,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told ABC News.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “can pull the trigger. He can pull it today. He can pull it tomorrow. He can pull it next week. The forces are there if he wants to renew aggression against Ukraine.”
US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke at length in a phone call on Wednesday, saying the situation remains “extremely serious” and there was still a risk of Russian military aggression.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also dismissed suggestions that the threat on Ukraine’s border had diminished.
“Moscow has made it clear that it is prepared to contest the fundamental principles that have underpinned our security for decades and to do so by using force,” he said.
“I regret to say that this is the new normal in Europe.”
US-based Maxar Technologies says satellite images show Russia has pulled back some military equipment.
It said other hardware has arrived and that Russia still has a lot of forces and equipment near its border with Ukraine.
Britain says Putin could drag out crisis
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Russian President Vladimir Putin could drag out the Ukraine crisis for months.
“We must have no illusions that Russia could drag this out much longer in a brazen ploy to spend weeks more, if not months, subverting Ukraine and challenging Western unity,” Truss wrote in The Daily Telegraph newspaper.
She added there was, “no evidence the Russians are withdrawing.”
Meanwhile, her colleague, Armed Forces minister James Heappey, said Britain had finished its military training activities in Ukraine.
He said the only remaining UK troops in the country are there to protect the ambassador.
Ukraine denies attacking separatists in the east
Ukraine has dismissed Russian-backed separatists’ claims that they were shelling their territory on Thursday.
“Despite the fact that our positions were fired on with prohibited weapons, including 122 mm artillery, Ukrainian troops did not open fire in response,” a duty press officer of the Ukrainian Join Forces Operation told the Reuters news agency.
Earlier, the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic told the Russian news agency RIA that Ukrainian forces used mortars, grenade launchers, and machine guns.
“Armed forces of Ukraine have crudely violated the ceasefire regime, using heavy weapons, which, according to the Minsk agreements, should be withdrawn,” the Luhansk People’s Republic said.
The Minsk agreement was signed in 2015 to halt the fighting in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region.
The peace agreement’s terms, however, were never properly implemented, and sporadic shooting has been reported in the rebel-held regions from both sides in recent years.
lo/rt (AFP, AP, Reuters)