NATO and the United States have said Russia is still building up troops around Ukraine despite Moscow’s statement on Wednesday, February 16 that it was pulling back troops, questioning President Vladimir Putin’s desire to negotiate a solution to the crisis between the two former Soviet Union countries.
In Ukraine, people raised flags and played the national anthem to show unity against fears of an invasion on Wednesday, February 16, the day that the US said Russia would attack Ukraine.
On Wednesday the Ukrainian government said a cyberattack that hit the defence ministry was the worst of its kind.
The cyber attack comes after Russia’s defence ministry said its forces were pulling back after military exercises in southern and western borders of Ukraine.
Russia published video that it said showed tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and self-propelled artillery units leaving the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.
However, responding to Russia’s claims, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said key Russian units were moving towards the border, not away.
“There’s what Russia says. And then there’s what Russia does. And we haven’t seen any pullback of its forces,” Blinken said in an interview on MSNBC.
“We continue to see critical units moving toward the border, not away from the border.”
The CIA says the risk of Russian aggression against Ukraine would remain high for the rest of February and Russia could still attack Ukraine “with essentially no, or little-to-no, warning”.
CIA analysts have warned that the crisis between Russia and Ukraine may rumble on for months to come.
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said moving troops and tanks back and forth did not amount to proof of a pullout.
“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,” he said before an alliance meeting in Brussels.
Stoltenberg later said NATO could prove Russia’s failure to pull back its troops with satellite imagery. He also said NATO had asked its commanders to plan for the deployment of battlegroups to the alliance’s southeastern flank.
The United Kingdom said it will double the size of its force in Estonia and send tanks and armoured fighting vehicles to the small Baltic republic bordering Russia as part of the NATO deployment, British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said.
The Kremlin said NATO’s assessment was wrong and that Russia never planned to attack Ukraine but wants to lay down “red lines” to prevent its neighbour from joining NATO, which it sees as a threat to its own security.
The Kremlin said Russia president Vladimir Putin was keen to negotiate with the US, which has offered discussions on arms control and confidence-building measures while ruling out a veto on future NATO membership for Ukraine.
Moscow has accused Washington of ‘hysterical war propaganda’ after repeated warnings by the US of a possible attack and reports in some Western media that it would happen on Wednesday.
Military analysts say a significant military withdrawal would involve field hospitals and fuel stores being dismantled and units from Russia’s far east, which are taking part in exercises in Belarus this week, returning to bases thousands of miles away.