Politics

Russia says some troops returning to bases amid invasion fears



Russia said Tuesday that some of its troops gathered near Ukraine were returning to their bases, although Kyiv said it was too early to tell whether this signaled any de-escalation in a crisis that the West has warned could see Moscow invade its neighbor any day.

The Russian defense ministry said some units of its southern and western military districts were pulling back after completing their exercises near Ukraine.

The units “that have completed the tasks have already begun loading onto rail and road transport and will begin moving to their military garrisons today.” Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in a video message.

But other military exercises, which the United States and its allies have feared might be used as cover for an attack, were continuing. It was also unclear how many troops would withdraw, while Moscow has made at least two similar announcements in as many months.

Russia has positioned some 130,000 troops around Ukraine on three sides but has consistently denied it is planning an invasion.

This satellite image released by Maxar Technologies shows troop transport and ground attack helicopter deployments in Lake Donuzlav, Crimea on Feb. 13, 2022. Maxar Technologies / AFP – Getty Images

Serhiy Nikiforov, spokesman for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, told NBC News on Tuesday that “we take these reports very cautiously” and that “any troops moved can quickly be moved back.”

“We’ll believe it when we see it,” the country’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said at a news conference. “If we see the withdrawal, we believe in de-escalation.”

With the world watching for any sign that the Kremlin might step back from the brink of an imminent invasion, Tuesday’s move came after Russian officials signaled that there might still be hope for diplomacy to resolve the monthslong standoff.

Nevertheless, Washington has sounded continued alarm that an invasion could come at any time, as satellite images showed that the build-up of Russian forces had intensified in recent days.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meets with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, left, in Moscow, on Monday.Alexei Nikolsky / AP

On Monday, Moscow’s defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, told President Vladimir Putin in televised remarks that some of the country’s military drills had already ended and others were coming to a close.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also indicated that Russia was ready to keep talking with Washington and NATO about its demands that are at the heart of the crisis.

Tatyana Chistikova and Reuters contributed.



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