WASHINGTON (AP) – A senior Biden administration official told reporters Wednesday night that no Russian troops had been evacuated from the Ukraine border, contradicting Moscow’s allegation that some personnel had been withdrawn.
“We now know it was false,” the person said, adding that up to 7,000 troops had just joined the 150,000 already stationed along the border.
According to the official, troops arrived as recently as Wednesday, and Moscow might launch a fake pretext to attack Ukraine at any time. The source also offered one of the most pessimistic appraisals about the probability of a diplomatic settlement to prevent conflict.
“Russia continues to say it wants to pursue a diplomatic solution, but their actions suggest otherwise,” the official added. “We hope they will reconsider before launching a war that will result in catastrophic death and destruction.”
Moscow has declared it is withdrawing part of the 150,000 troops that the US and its allies say have concentrated on Ukraine on three sides. However, with the world looking for evidence that a terrible new confrontation on European territory could be avoided, Russia’s days of high-stakes signalling were viewed with mistrust by the West.
Ukraine commemorated a defiant national day of togetherness in Kyiv, where its officials have attempted to downplay the anxiety.
Meanwhile, in an apparent attempt to bolster its claims of a partial retreat, Russia’s military ministry published video of a trainload of armoured vehicles travelling out from Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Moscow annexed in 2014.
This came after a similar declaration the day before, and Russian President Vladimir Putin also mentioned the prospect of a diplomatic settlement to the problem. However, officials in Washington and Europe have advised prudence.
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, tweeted on Wednesday that “statements on withdrawal are insufficient.” Transparency and truth are required.”
In fact, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels that Russia has “increased the number of troops, and more troops are on the way.”
Stoltenberg told a press conference after meeting with NATO military ministers on Wednesday that the alliance has seen “any sign of de-escalation on the ground, no withdrawals of troops or equipment.”
According to Stoltenberg, Russia has a “massive invasion force ready to attack with high-end capabilities from Crimea to Belarus,” which is the greatest build up of military in Europe since the Cold War.