Russia continues to build troops near Ukraine, US and NATO say
- According to Russia, video shows tanks leaving Crimea
- NATO says more troops are on the way
- The cyberattack continues against the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense
MOSCOW/KIEV, Feb 16 (Reuters) – The United States and NATO said on Wednesday that Russia was continuing to build up troops around Ukraine despite Moscow’s insistence on pulling out, calling into question the stated will of President Vladimir Putin to negotiate a solution to the crisis.
In Ukraine, where people hoisted flags and played the national anthem to show their unity against fears of invasion, the government said a cyberattack that hit the defense ministry was the worst of its kind ever. the country has known. He pointed the finger at Russia, which denied any involvement. Read more
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said US officials were not yet able to say who was responsible for the cyberattack. She also said the door remained open for diplomacy with Russia, but reiterated her concerns that a Russian attack could be preceded by a “false flag” operation and disinformation.
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The Russian Defense Ministry said its forces – part of a huge buildup that came with demands on the West for sweeping security guarantees – were pulling back after drills in the southern and northern military districts. the west near Ukraine.
He posted a video he said showed tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and self-propelled artillery units leaving the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.
But US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the main Russian units were headed for the border, not further.
“There’s what Russia says. And then there’s what Russia does. And we haven’t seen any withdrawal of their forces,” Blinken said in an interview on MSNBC. “We continue to see critical units moving towards the border, not far from the border.”
A senior Western intelligence official said the risk of Russian aggression against Ukraine would remain high for the rest of February and Russia could still attack Ukraine “with virtually no, or little or no, warning.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said moving troops and tanks back and forth was not proof of a withdrawal.
“What we see is that they have increased the number of troops and more troops are on the way. So, so far, no de-escalation,” he said before a meeting of the alliance in Brussels.
Stoltenberg later said NATO could prove Russia’s failure to withdraw its troops with satellite images. Read more
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told Reuters in an interview that his country’s latest intelligence report showed no signs of a Russian withdrawal. He said the combined strength of Russian military and pro-Russian separatist forces near Ukraine’s borders amounted to around 140,000. Read more
The Kremlin said NATO’s assessment was wrong. Moscow’s ambassador to Ireland said forces in western Russia would be back in their normal positions within three to four weeks.
Russia says it never planned to attack Ukraine but wants to draw “red lines” to prevent its neighbor from joining NATO, which it sees as a threat to its own security.
The Kremlin has said Putin is keen to negotiate with the United States, which has offered talks on arms control and confidence-building measures while ruling out a veto on Ukraine’s future NATO membership.
But Russia has also said it would be ready to redirect energy exports to other markets if hit with sanctions, which Washington and its allies have threatened if it invades Ukraine.
Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said sanctions against Russian banks would be “unpleasant”, but the state would ensure that all bank deposits and transactions were secure. Read more
Moscow accused Washington of hysterical war propaganda after repeated warnings of a possible attack and reports in some Western media that it would happen on Wednesday.
Global equities fell slightly while oil and gold rose as investors reacted cautiously to lingering tensions.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy designated a patriotic holiday on Wednesday in response to reports that Russia may invade that day. “No one can love our home like we can. And only we, together, can protect our home,” he said. Read more
Zelenskiy, who is touring the country to help boost Ukrainian morale, observed drills by his armed forces that included Javelin anti-tank missiles in western Ukraine.
Ukraine has also increased the number of border guards on its border with Russia’s ally Belarus, where some 9,000 Russian soldiers are believed to be involved in military exercises.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said hackers were still bombarding its website and found vulnerabilities, but traffic was being redirected to servers in the United States while the issue was being fixed.
Stoltenberg said NATO military commanders would draw up plans for new combat units that diplomats said could be deployed in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia. Such units – designed to buy time for additional troops to reach the front line if needed – already exist in Poland and the Baltic states.
Britain will double the size of its force in Estonia and send tanks and armored fighting vehicles to the tiny Baltic republic bordering Russia as part of the NATO deployment, Defense Minister Ben Wallace has said.
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Reporting by Alexander Marrow and Alexander Vasovic; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey in Washington, Phil Stewart and Sabine Siebold in Brussels; Written by Mark Trevelyan, Philippa Fletcher and Gareth Jones; Editing by Grant McCool and Rosalba O’Brien
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