US says Russia added 7,000 troops along Ukrainian border, despite allegations of withdrawal

A senior US administration official said the increase makes Russia’s withdrawal claim “false” and warned that President Vladimir Putin’s public openness to diplomacy was just a pretext.

“Every indication we have now is that they only want to publicly offer to speak and make statements on de-escalation, while privately mobilizing for war,” the official said.

The new estimates would place the number of Russian forces north of the 150,000 figure cited by President Joe Biden in a televised address earlier this week. Western leaders had previously greeted Russian demands for withdrawal with skepticism. On Tuesday, Biden said during a speech in the East Room that a withdrawal of Russian troops would be “nice,” but he had yet to see any evidence that such a withdrawal was taking place.

“Our analysts indicate that they remain in a very threatening position,” Biden said. “And the fact remains that currently Russia has over 150,000 troops encircling Ukraine and Belarus and along the Ukrainian border.”

The senior official again warned that Russia could use a false pretext for an attack, including making allegations about NATO activity or an incursion into Russian territory, or alleging atrocities occurring in the region eastern Donbass, which was under the control of Russian-backed separatists. since 2014.

“We should expect more fake news from Russian state media in the coming days,” the official said. “We don’t know what form the false pretense will take. But we hope the world is ready.”

The announcements, made during an early evening conference call, painted a grim picture as the United States and Europe eagerly await Putin to signal his intentions. US officials have said the window is open for a possible invasion, but the enigmatic Russian leader will still have to make the final decision.

A day earlier, Biden had seized on signals from Moscow that he was ready to resume negotiations, saying there was “a lot of room for diplomacy.” But the official speaking a day later largely dismissed those prospects while saying talks would continue.

“We will continue to pursue diplomacy over the coming days while being ready to respond quickly and decisively,” the official said. “Russia keeps saying it wants to seek a diplomatic solution; their actions indicate otherwise. We hope they will change course before starting a war that will result in catastrophic death and destruction.”

On Tuesday, Putin claimed Russia was returning troops to the base after completing exercises in Crimea, the Ukrainian territory annexed by Russia in 2014.

But U.S. and European leaders have uniformly questioned that claim.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance had yet seen “no signs of de-escalation on the ground”, but added that “signs from Moscow that diplomacy must continue” were grounds for cautious optimism.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told a press conference in Kyiv that he abides by one rule when it comes to Russian claims: “Don’t hear and then believe. But see and then believe. “

And US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an interview Wednesday morning that there was “a difference between what Russia says and what it does.”

“What we’re seeing is not a significant pullback,” Blinken told ABC News.

This story has been updated with more reporting.


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