NATO says there’s ‘NO real signs of de-escalation’ of Russian troops at Ukrainian border

NATO has warned there are no signs Russia is moving troops away from Ukraine’s border and actually seems to be building its forces, despite Moscow saying that tanks are being withdrawn as Vladimir Putin insists he is ready to talk.   

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s chief executive, said today that Russia ‘always moves forces back and forth’ as videos emerged appearing to show tanks leaving the frontlines and that more troops are still arriving in the region. 

‘What we see is that they have increased the number of troops and more troops are on their way,’ he said as he arrived in Brussels for a summit with NATO defense chiefs including Lloyd Austin to discuss their next moves with the Kremlin.

‘If they really start to withdraw forces, that’s something we will welcome. But that remains to be seen,’ he added. ‘Just seeing the movement of battle tanks doesn’t confirm a real withdrawal.’

But news that war is not yet underway will be greeted with cautious optimism after dire warnings out of Washington of a 3am rocket and artillery barrage followed by all-out ground assault failed to materialize.  

It comes after President Joe Biden said he would not send US service members to fight in Ukraine as he appealed for diplomacy. 

Elsewhere today… 

  • Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he is ‘positive’ that Joe Biden is ready to enter into talks about European security 
  • Russia denied having anything to do with a cyberattack that took down banks and the website of Ukraine’s defence ministry overnight 
  • NATO defence chiefs met in Brussels today to discuss next steps as talks with Russia push ahead – albeit at gunpoint
  • The EU called on Russia to take ‘concrete steps’ to de-escalate its troop build-up around Ukraine, while hailing ‘signs of hope’ 
D-Day for Ukraine has dawned with no sign of a Russian invasion, quelling fears that Putin would spark war overnight (pictured, Kiev's troop on the frontlines Tuesday)

D-Day for Ukraine has dawned with no sign of a Russian invasion, quelling fears that Putin would spark war overnight (pictured, Kiev’s troop on the frontlines Tuesday)

Moscow has continued to issue videos of some tanks leaving Crimea, which does little to reduce the threat faced by Ukraine but seems intended as an olive branch while talks continue

Moscow has continued to issue videos of some tanks leaving Crimea, which does little to reduce the threat faced by Ukraine but seems intended as an olive branch while talks continue

Russian units leaving Crimea are moving back to their bases in South Ossetia and Dagestan, Moscow says, while some troops are also being moved - albeit not very far away

Russian units leaving Crimea are moving back to their bases in South Ossetia and Dagestan, Moscow says, while some troops are also being moved – albeit not very far away

Biden admitted yesterday that Ukraine would be on its own if Russia does invade and said American service members would not be sent to fight – but if Americans were to be targeted, the president warned of a ‘bloody, destructive war.’  

Russia’s claim that it pulled back troops ‘would be good, but we have not yet verified that,’ Biden said. ‘Indeed, our analysts indicate that they remain very much in a threatening position.’

In remarks at the White House Tuesday, Biden promised that the U.S. would continue to give diplomacy ‘every chance’ to prevent a Russian invasion, but he struck a skeptical tone about Moscow’s intentions.

‘While I will not send American servicemen to fight in Ukraine, we have supplied the Ukrainian military equipment to help them defend themselves,’ Biden said during an address Tuesday.

‘We provided training and advice and intelligence for the same purpose.’

Biden insisted that the U.S. and its allies would not ‘sacrifice basic principles’ respecting Ukraine sovereignty.

‘Two paths are still open,’ Biden said. ‘But let there be no doubt: If Russia commits this breach by invading Ukraine, responsible nations around the world will not hesitate to respond. If we do not stand for freedom where it is at risk today, we’ll surely pay a steeper price tomorrow.’

Biden also warned that the U.S. is committed to protecting NATO allies amid the rising tensions with Russia.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin arrives at the meeting of NATO defense ministers at the NATO Headquarter in Brussels

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin arrives at the meeting of NATO defense ministers at the NATO Headquarter in Brussels

Austin bumped fists with Jens Stoltenberg as they met at the start of the crucial summit today

Austin bumped fists with Jens Stoltenberg as they met at the start of the crucial summit today

‘Make no mistake, the United States will defend every inch of NATO territory with the full force of American power,’ Biden said. ‘An attack against one NATO country is an attack against all of us.’

In response today, the Kremlin said Putin is in favor of negotiations and diplomacy and he views Biden’s willingness to talk as a positive sign.

Biden’s direct appeal to Russian citizens was welcomed, but the Kremlin said it would be even better if he had urged Ukrainian people to stop shooting at each other.

Moscow casts the conflict in east Ukraine as a civil war, but Ukraine and the West say Russia helps the separatists with its own ground forces, something Moscow denies.

It comes a day after Putin said he is willing to engage in negotiations with the West over security guarantees designed to ease sky-high tensions.  

Putin wants Ukraine to be banned from joining NATO and for the alliance to withdraw troops from ex-Soviet states. 

Both of those demands have been dismissed but a range of other compromises have been offered on arms control, transparency around missile deployments, and information-sharing on military drills that Putin has said he is willing to discuss.

Russian tanks in Crimea begin returning to their home bases after training exercises, as Putin signals he is ready to start talking with the West

Russian tanks in Crimea begin returning to their home bases after training exercises, as Putin signals he is ready to start talking with the West

Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister and chief negotiator, has said a 10-page response to NATO’s offers has been prepared though not yet sent. 

Kyiv Mayor Wladimir Klitschko has said that he hopes for a ‘last-minute’ diplomatic solution between Russia and Ukraine.

The former heavyweight champion of the world told LBC that he hoped that Russia would not invade his country on Wednesday.

‘It is the first time in the history of Ukraine that so many Russian soldiers stayed at the border’, he said.

‘The risk (of) aggression towards Ukraine is pretty big. We prepare for any scenario.

‘We do not know how the situation will develop but we hope that the invasion does not happen, and that at the last minute we have a diplomatic solution.’ 

Ukrainians gather around a huge flagpole in the city of Kramatorsk, near the breakaway region of Donetsk, to celebrate a national 'unity day' in defiance of Russian threats

Ukrainians gather around a huge flagpole in the city of Kramatorsk, near the breakaway region of Donetsk, to celebrate a national ‘unity day’ in defiance of Russian threats

A child walks underneath a giant Ukrainian flag in the city of Sievierodonetsk, near the breakaway region of Luhansk, during a national 'unity day'

A child walks underneath a giant Ukrainian flag in the city of Sievierodonetsk, near the breakaway region of Luhansk, during a national ‘unity day’

Ukraine tests tank-buster missile sent by Britain 

Troops in Ukraine fired anti-tank weapons in exercises yesterday as the country continued to prepare for a possible invasion by Russia.

It comes after the UK last month gave 2,000 NLAW anti-tank weapons to Ukraine. The troops carrying out test-firing in the eastern Donetsk region yesterday were using NLAWs but it was unclear if these were British weapons.

It was part of a series of drills by Ukraine in recent days. Military commanders had issued a statement on Sunday insisting they were ready to see off the Russian threat. They boasted of their Stinger and Javelin missiles, saying: ‘We are ready to meet the enemy – and not with flowers but with Stingers, Javelins and NLAWs.’

Ukrainian leaders have repeatedly sought to project calm but also strength during the crisis. 

In an apparent show of defiance, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared that Wednesday would be a ‘day of national unity,’ calling on citizens to display the blue-and-yellow flag and sing the national anthem in the face of ‘hybrid threats.’ 

Russia has denied having any invasion plans. It wants the West to keep Ukraine and other former Soviet nations out of NATO, halt weapons deployments near Russian borders and roll back forces from Eastern Europe.

The U.S. and its allies have roundly rejected those demands, but they offered to engage in talks with Russia on ways to bolster security in Europe.

Speaking after meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Putin said the West agreed to discuss a ban on missile deployment to Europe, restrictions on military drills and other confidence-building measures – issues that Moscow put on the table years ago.

He said Russia is open to discuss ‘some of those elements,’ but added that it would do so only in combination ‘with the main issues that are of primary importance for us.’

While Scholz reiterated that NATO’s eastward expansion ‘is not on the agenda – everyone knows that very well,’ Putin retorted that Moscow will not be assuaged by such assurances.

‘They are telling us it won’t happen tomorrow,’ Putin said. ‘Well, when will it happen? The day after tomorrow? What does it change for us in the historic perspective? Nothing.’

Scholz also said diplomatic options are ‘far from exhausted,’ and he praised the announcement of a troop withdrawal as a ‘good signal,’ adding: ‘We hope that more will follow.’

The Russian Defense Ministry released images of tanks and howitzers rolling onto railway platforms and more tanks rolling across snowy fields. 

It did not disclose where or when the images were taken, or where the vehicles were headed, other than ‘to places of permanent deployment.’ 

Images put out by the Russian ministry of defence appear to show tanks leaving the frontlines near Ukraine, though western leaders say the overall threat remains the same

Images put out by the Russian ministry of defence appear to show tanks leaving the frontlines near Ukraine, though western leaders say the overall threat remains the same

Tanks are seen during a media tour at the Malyshev transport engineering plant in Ukraine

Tanks are seen during a media tour at the Malyshev transport engineering plant in Ukraine

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (right) is pictured sitting down with Putin (left) in the Kremlin yesterday. Scholz is the latest foreign leader to be given the 'long table treatment' - for talks aimed at deescalating the crisis

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (right) is pictured sitting down with Putin (left) in the Kremlin yesterday. Scholz is the latest foreign leader to be given the ‘long table treatment’ – for talks aimed at deescalating the crisis

Putin opened up an avenue for talks during a joint press conference with Germany's Olaf Scholz on Tuesday, saying there is room for negotiation on security guarantees

Putin opened up an avenue for talks during a joint press conference with Germany’s Olaf Scholz on Tuesday, saying there is room for negotiation on security guarantees 

Ukraine expressed skepticism.

‘We won’t believe when we hear, we’ll believe when we see,’ Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.

And NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that there have been no signs, so far, of a reduced military presence on Ukraine’s borders.

Meanwhile, a series of cyberattacks knocked out the websites of the Ukrainian army, the defense ministry and major banks. 

There was no indication that the relatively low-level denial-of-service attacks might be a smoke screen for more serious cyber mischief. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. has not yet determined who was behind the attacks.

Despite the worst East-West tensions in decades, few Russians expect a war. In a village in Russia’s Belgorod region, about 30 kilometers (18 miles) from Ukraine’s border, residents carried on with life as usual, even as more military personnel have been passing through village streets.

‘We are really on the border, we really have relatives here and there, everyone has somebody’ on the Ukrainian side, villager Lyudmila Nechvolod said. ‘No one wants war.’

Russian lawmakers urged Putin to recognize rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine as independent states. The State Duma, Russia’s lower house, voted to submit an appeal to Putin to that effect.

Putin said the request reflects the Russian public’s sympathy for the suffering of people trapped in the conflict in eastern Ukraine that has killed over 14,000 since 2014. 

He noted, however, that Russia continues to believe a 2015 peace deal brokered by France and Germany should serve as the main vehicle for a settlement of the separatist conflict. 

West risks Russian ire with plans to deploy 4,000 troops on Europe’s south-eastern borders

ByDavid Averre For Mailonline


Western defence ministers are set to meet in Brussels today to discuss plans to reinforce eastern Europe with more NATO troops despite Russia’s apparent willingness to withdraw from the border with Ukraine.

The plan would see four fresh battlegroups of 1,000 troops deploy along the alliance’s eastern front, firstly in Romania, in a move that directly contravenes Russia’s security demand that the West reduces its military presence along its border.

NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said the proposal is being drawn up due to Russia’s recent aggression near Ukraine and its ‘lasting impact of the security situation in Europe’.

But there are fears that the plans will anger Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu, just as Moscow has declared it does not want a war in Ukraine and began withdrawing armoured vehicles from the frontline.

The planned deployment of up to 4,000 NATO troops marks the alliance’s biggest show of aggression towards Russia in six years.  

Western defence ministers are set to discuss plans to reinforce eastern Europe with more NATO troops despite Russia's apparent willingness to withdraw from the border with Ukraine. NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg (left) said the proposal is being drawn up due to Russia's recent aggression near Ukraine and its 'lasting impact of the security situation in Europe' (Boris Johnson pictured right)

Western defence ministers are set to discuss plans to reinforce eastern Europe with more NATO troops despite Russia’s apparent willingness to withdraw from the border with Ukraine. NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg (left) said the proposal is being drawn up due to Russia’s recent aggression near Ukraine and its ‘lasting impact of the security situation in Europe’ (Boris Johnson pictured right)

There are fears that the plans will anger Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu, just as Moscow has declared it does not want a war in Ukraine and began withdrawing armoured vehicles from the frontline

There are fears that the plans will anger Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu, just as Moscow has declared it does not want a war in Ukraine and began withdrawing armoured vehicles from the frontline

The plan would see up to four fresh battlegroups of troops deploy along the alliance's eastern front, firstly in Romania, in a move that directly contravenes Russia's security demand that the West reduces its military presence along its border (Ukrainian troops pictured Feb 10, 2022)

The plan would see up to four fresh battlegroups of troops deploy along the alliance’s eastern front, firstly in Romania, in a move that directly contravenes Russia’s security demand that the West reduces its military presence along its border (Ukrainian troops pictured Feb 10, 2022)

Discussions around the proposal to introduce more NATO troops in eastern Europe comes as Moscow began withdrawing armoured vehicles from the frontline (Russian armoured vehicles are loaded onto railway platforms after the end of military drills in South Russia - Feb. 15, 2022)

Discussions around the proposal to introduce more NATO troops in eastern Europe comes as Moscow began withdrawing armoured vehicles from the frontline (Russian armoured vehicles are loaded onto railway platforms after the end of military drills in South Russia – Feb. 15, 2022)

The plans come as an extension of a 2016 agreement which saw the alliance deploy battlegroups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The new deployment would be led primarily by France, who would install troops in Romania, and a NATO-commanded Bulgarian battle group in Bulgaria.   

Stoltenberg said: ‘NATO is not only responding to the current crisis but we are also going to consider more long-term adjustments to our posture in the east.

‘Defence ministers will address the need to further increase our defensive posture… it will take some time until we have all the decisions in place.’

Some NATO countries are reluctant to host allied battlegroups however, with Hungarian President Viktor Orban and Defence Minister Tibor Benko recently declining to accept troops.

Hungary enjoys relatively strong relations with Russia despite being a member state of NATO, and is heavily reliant on Moscow for its supply of gas, as well as technical and financial support with its nuclear energy programme.  

Nevertheless, Western defence ministers are expected to give the green light to military commanders who will come up with a detailed plan for the strategic deployment of the four new battle groups.

The move could give Moscow cause for alarm as it would signal to Putin that NATO has no plans to consider Russia’s security demands – a key obstacle to calming tensions between the East and the West. 

In a list of contentious demands submitted in December, Russian authorities requested guarantees from NATO and Western powers that Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations would not be admitted to the alliance.

Moscow also demanded that NATO halt weapons deployments near Russian borders and roll back forces from Eastern Europe.

Hungarian Defence Minister Tibor Benko said last month that there is no need for NATO to deploy its troops in Hungary amid tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban met with Putin earlier this month and requested more gas imports despite protests from his opposition at home

Hungarian Defence Minister Tibor Benko (L) last month declared that there is no need for NATO to deploy its troops in Hungary amid tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine, while Prime Minister Viktor Orban met with Putin earlier this month to discuss increasing gas imports. Hungary enjoys relatively strong relations with Russia despite being a member state of NATO, and is heavily reliant on Moscow for its supply of gas, as well as technical and financial support with its nuclear energy programme

The US, UK and Western allies have offered to engage Russia in talks on how to reach a mutually agreed upon security deal.

But the plans set to be discussed today in Brussels would clearly signal a rejection of some of Moscow’s most important demands. 

Speaking after meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz yesterday, Putin said the West agreed to discuss a ban on missile deployment to Europe and added that Russia is open to discuss ‘some of those elements,’ but insisted it would do so only in combination ‘with the main issues that are of primary importance for us.’

Asked if there could be a war in Europe, Putin said Russia doesn’t want it but that Ukraine’s bid to join NATO posed a major security threat to his country and that Western leaders had not yet given a constructive response on the matter.

‘Of course we don’t want war,’ the President said. ‘This is exactly why we put forward the proposal to start the negotiation process where the result should be an agreement ensuring equal security of everyone, including our country.

‘Unfortunately there was no constructive response to this proposal.’ 

Footage emerged today of Russian armoured vehicles being withdrawn from Crimea and Southern Russia where they were engaged in large scale military drills, with Russian authorities assuring that troops are being pulled back from Ukraine's borders

Footage emerged today of Russian armoured vehicles being withdrawn from Crimea and Southern Russia where they were engaged in large scale military drills, with Russian authorities assuring that troops are being pulled back from Ukraine’s borders

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (right) is pictured sitting down with Putin (left) in the Kremlin yesterday. Scholz is the latest foreign leader to be given the 'long table treatment' - for talks aimed at deescalating the crisis

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (right) is pictured sitting down with Putin (left) in the Kremlin yesterday. Scholz is the latest foreign leader to be given the ‘long table treatment’ – for talks aimed at deescalating the crisis

US President Joe Biden said Russia's claims of withdrawal 'would be good, but we have not yet verified that. Indeed, our analysts indicate that they remain very much in a threatening position.'

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson accused Putin of sending mixed messages, and said: 'The intelligence we are seeing today is still not encouraging. You have got more battalion tactical groups being brought closer to the border. What everybody needs to see is a programme of de-escalation.'

Russia’s apparent military scale-back is being treated with extreme scepticism in the West, where intelligence agencies suspect is could be part of a ruse to launch a smaller military operation in the regions of Eastern Ukraine where Russian separatists are fighting (left: Joe Biden, right: Boris Johnson)

Footage emerged today of Russian armoured vehicles being withdrawn from Crimea and Southern Russia where they were engaged in large scale military drills, with Russian authorities assuring that troops are being pulled back from Ukraine’s borders.

But the apparent military scale-back is being treated with extreme scepticism in the West, where intelligence agencies suspect is could be part of a ruse to launch a smaller military operation in the regions of Eastern Ukraine where Russian separatists are fighting.    

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson accused Putin of sending mixed messages, and said: ‘The intelligence we are seeing today is still not encouraging. You have got more battalion tactical groups being brought closer to the border. What everybody needs to see is a programme of de-escalation.’

Ukraine also expressed scepticism about Russia’s statements of a pullback.

‘We won’t believe when we hear, we’ll believe when we see. When we see troops pulling out, we’ll believe in de-escalation,’ Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.

Stoltenberg said that ‘so far, we have not seen any signs of reduced Russian military presence on the borders of Ukraine,’ adding that the alliance wants to see a ‘significant and enduring withdrawal’ of forces, troops and heavy equipment.

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