Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) NATO today accused Moscow of deploying more troops to the Ukrainian borders, even as Russia claimed it had begun to withdraw its troops and was open to a diplomatic solution.
“We have not seen any withdrawal of Russian forces”, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg asserted ahead of a two-day conference of NATO defence ministers. “That contradicts the message of diplomatic efforts. What we see is that they have increased the number of troops and more troops are on their way. So, so far, no de-escalation.”
According to US sources, more than 150,000 Russian troops were massed near Ukraine’s borders, with some units deployed in the occupied Crimea peninsula, and others located in Belarus, apparently engaging in joint exercises with the Belarus military.
Moscow declared on Tuesday that it was withdrawing some of its troops from the area, since the exercises had concluded. Moreover, the Kremlin has mocked the West for engaging in “fear mongering”, claiming that warnings of an imminent Russian invasion were an act of war propaganda.
Western sources, on the other hand, cite intelligence reports indicating that Russian military drills will continue at their most active level for the remainder of February. “We are at a peak period where the exercises that the Russians had announced are in their active phases”, an unnamed official told Reuters. “There are no credible signs at this point that there will be any kind of military de-escalation.”
While Russia denies it has any plans to invade Ukraine, it reiterates insistently that it will respond should Ukraine attack “its citizens”, a reference presumed to be to Russian speakers in the eastern areas of Ukraine, which are held by Moscow-backed insurgents, many with Russian citizenship.
In its diplomatic engagements with the west, Moscow has repeatedly sought assurances that Ukraine not be allowed to join NATO, and demanded that the alliance move all of its troops from most of the Eastern European countries that were once part of the Warsaw Pact.