In this photo taken from video provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, Russian army tanks are loaded onto railway platforms to move back to their permanent base after drills in Russia.
Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP
NATO accused Russia on Wednesday of increasing the number of troops it has amassed at the Ukrainian border, a day after Moscow claimed it had begun withdrawing some of its military units.
Western leaders have warned that they are yet to see evidence of such a move, after a spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Defense announced on Tuesday that some units, having completed military drills near the border, were already on the move.
The Russian government released video footage on Wednesday which it claimed showed military units returning to their permanent deployments after completing exercises. CNBC has not been able to verify the authenticity of the footage.
Russian officials have also announced that troops engaging in military exercises in Belarus, to Ukraine’s north, would also be returning to their permanent bases on Feb. 20. However, Western leaders have cast doubt on Russia’s claims.
NATO defense ministers are due to meet in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss what the military alliance has called “the most serious security crisis we have faced in Europe for decades.”
Speaking to reporters ahead of the meeting on Wednesday, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said it “remains to be seen whether there is a Russian withdrawal.”
“So far, we have not seen any de-escalation on the ground. On the contrary it appears that Russia continues their military buildup,” he said.
Stoltenberg added that Russia has “always moved forces back and forth,” so footage that shows movement of forces and tanks “does not confirm a real withdrawal.”
Stoltenberg has said NATO allies “remain ready to engage with Russia.”
The Kremlin said Wednesday that NATO was “wrong” to say there is no evidence of Russian withdrawal from the border, Reuters reported, adding that President Vladimir Putin had a desire to negotiate diplomatically.
Moscow later on Wednesday doubled down on its claims that Russian troops were beginning to head back to their permanent deployments, with Russian state media releasing a report that said tanks, armored vehicles and soldiers had begun a 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) journey back to their bases.
But U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Sky News on Wednesday that although the West has seen “some positive signs” from Russia, “the intelligence we’re seeing today is still not encouraging.”
“We’ve got Russian field hospitals being constructed near the border with Ukraine in Belarus, which can only be construed as preparation for an invasion,” he said. “So mixed signals, I think, at the moment.”
Johnson told reporters on Tuesday that the British government would target Russian banks and companies with “a very, very tough package” of sanctions if Russia…
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