US and Allies Can’t Verify Russian Pullback of Troops near Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed a security conversation with the West on Tuesday, and his military reported drawing back some soldiers near Ukraine. However, US President Joe Biden stated that the US had not independently validated Russia’s allegation and that an invasion was still a possible.

Putin has stated that he does not desire a conflict and will rely on diplomacy to prevent any possibility of Ukraine joining NATO in the future. At the same time, Putin refused to commit to a complete military withdrawal, stating that Russia’s next steps in the standoff will be determined by how the situation develops.

Biden stated that the US will continue to give diplomacy “every chance” to avert a Russian invasion in remarks at the White House, but he sounded suspicious about Moscow’s intentions. Biden also stated that the United States and its allies will not “compromise essential values” when it comes to Ukraine’s sovereignty.

“There are still two paths available,” Biden stated. “But make no mistake: If Russia violates international law by invading Ukraine, responsible nations all across the globe will not hesitate to retaliate.” We will undoubtedly pay a higher price tomorrow if we do not stand up for freedom when it is threatened now.”

Putin’s gestures calmed global markets, which had been jittery due to the highest level of East-West hostilities in decades. The United States and its European allies remained hesitant, saying they needed to see signs of a Russian retreat. According to Biden, 150,000 Russian troops are now stationed near Ukraine and Belarus, up from a previous US estimate of 130,000 troops.

Russia’s declaration that it has withdrawn soldiers “would be wonderful,” Biden added, “but we have not yet verified it.” “In fact, our analysis indicate that they are still in a very dangerous situation.”

The United States and NATO, which continue to warn that Russia may invade at any time, have dispatched soldiers and military supplies to Eastern European allies. Russia has vehemently rejected any such ambitions. It wants the West to keep Ukraine and other former Soviet republics out of the alliance, stop weapon deployments near Russian borders, and withdraw troops from Eastern Europe.

The US and its allies have flatly rejected those requests, but have offered to meet with Russia to discuss measures to strengthen European security.

Putin claimed the West agreed to examine a prohibition on missile deployment to Europe, curbs on military maneuvers, and other confidence-building measures after meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. These are problems that Moscow has raised for years.

He stated that Russia is willing to talk about “some of those things,” but only in conjunction with “the fundamental problems that are of primary interest to us.”

When asked if a war in Europe is possible, Putin stated that he does not desire one, but that Ukraine’s quest to join NATO poses a huge security danger to Russia.

While Scholz reaffirmed that NATO’s eastward expansion “is not on the plan — everyone knows that,” Putin countered that such guarantees will not pacify Moscow.

Putin stated, “They are promising us it won’t happen tomorrow.” “Well, when is it going to happen?” Tomorrow? The day after tomorrow? What does it mean for us from a historical standpoint? Nothing.”

Scholz also stated that diplomatic alternatives are “far from exhausted,” and that the military pullout declaration is a “positive signal,” adding, “We hope that more will follow.”

Images of tanks and howitzers rolling into train stations, as well as additional tanks moving over snowy fields, were provided by the Russian Defense Ministry. Other than “to sites of permanent deployment,” it did not say where or when the photographs were shot, or where the trucks were heading.

Biden admitted that imposing sanctions on Russia in response for an invasion would likely have substantial economic consequences for the United States, including price rises and disruptions in the country’s energy supply.

“The American people recognize that safeguarding democracy and liberty comes at a price,” Biden added. “I’m not going to lie to you, this isn’t going to be easy.”

He said that the government was working with energy producers and shippers to develop contingency plans in order to avoid supply disruptions. The president stated that he will engage with Congress on “further steps to safeguard consumers and address the effect of pricing at the pump,” but did not elaborate.

Russian military continue to threaten Ukraine along its eastern border and from the Crimean Peninsula in the Black Sea, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, the same year it backed a separatist uprising in the country’s east. More Russian troops are stationed in Belarus, where they are participating in sweeping joint maneuvers, looming over Ukraine.

Russia’s assurances of a pullout have been met with mistrust by Ukraine.

“We won’t believe it when we hear it, but when we see it, we’ll believe it.” We’ll believe in de-escalation when we see troops leaving,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stated.

“So far, we have not seen… any evidence of reduced Russian military presence on the borders of Ukraine,” said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, adding that the alliance wants to see a “substantial and durable pullback” of forces, troops, and heavy equipment.

Following the Kremlin’s dismissal of Western warnings as “hysteria” and “absurdity,” few Russians foresee a conflict.

Residents in a community in Russia’s Belgorod area, some 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the Ukrainian border, went about their daily lives as usual, despite the presence of extra military officers on the streets.

“We are buddies with Ukraine,” Lyudmila Nechvolod, a peasant, said. “We are truly on the border; we have family here and there, and everyone knows someone who lives there” (on the Ukrainian side). “No one wants to go to war.”

Tuesday’s diplomatic efforts continued.

On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, while Vice President Joe Biden spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron about the problem.

Meanwhile, Russian legislators have asked Putin to recognize the separatist-held territories of eastern Ukraine as separate republics. The State Duma, Russia’s lower chamber, decided to make such a request to Putin.

Putin said the request indicates Russian popular compassion for those stuck in the fighting in eastern Ukraine, which has claimed the lives of nearly 14,000 people since 2014. He did say, though, that Russia still believes the 2015 peace pact signed by France and Germany should be the primary vehicle for resolving the separatist dispute.

Putin’s comments indicated that he was not likely to support a measure in parliament that would effectively nullify the 2015 deal, which was a significant diplomatic triumph for Moscow and requested Kyiv to grant the separatist territory substantial autonomy. Many in Ukraine are opposed to it, and its implementation has stopped.

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