Russia says it has pulled back some of its troops along its border with Ukraine, as Kyiv called on its people to fly flags and sing in unity amid the West’s continued warnings of an “imminent” Moscow invasion.
The Russian defence ministry said on Tuesday that some of its units are heading back to base by rail and by truck after completing military drills, the Interfax news agency reported.
“Units of the southern and western military districts, which have accomplished their missions, are boarding trains and trucks and will head for their garrisons later today,” Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said. “Some units will join military convoys and will perform self-propelled marches.”
State-controlled news outlet Russia Today shared video of what it claimed were Russian troops heading back to their permanent bases after “successfully finishing drills”.
“February 15, 2022 will go into history as the day the western war propaganda failed,” Maria Zakharova, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, wrote on Facebook after the announcement. “They have been humiliated and destroyed without a single shot being fired.”
It comes as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on his nation to fly flags and sing the national anthem on Wednesday, a date some US officials reportedly told the media would be the day Russia invades.
Ukrainian government officials stressed that Mr Zelensky was not predicting an attack on Wednesday, but responding sceptically to media reports.
“They tell us 16 February will be the day of the attack. We will make it a day of unity,” Mr Zelensky said in a video address on Monday. “They are trying to frighten us by yet again naming a date for the start of military action.
“On that day, we will hang our national flags, wear yellow and blue banners, and show the whole world our unity.”
But Foreign Secretary Liz said an attack was still looking “imminent and highly likely”, telling Sky News on Tuesday that there could be a “long protracted war”.
US officials said they were not predicting an assault ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin on a specific day, but repeated warnings that it could come at any time.
“I won’t get into a specific date, I don’t think that would be smart,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
“I would just tell you that it is entirely possible that he could move with little to no warning.”
Russia has massed more than 130,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders to the north, south and east. It has also launched massive military drills in Belarus, an ally that also borders Ukraine.
Russia said it was ready to keep talking about the security grievances that have led to the crisis, as Moscow continues to deny it has plans to invade Ukraine.
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said on Monday that Moscow should hold more talks despite the West’s refusal to consider his country’s main demands, particularly for Ukraine to not be allowed to join Nato.
He said that the talks “can’t go on indefinitely, but I would suggest to continue and expand them at this stage”.
German chancellor Olaf Scholz is visiting Moscow on Tuesday as part of diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the crisis through dialogue, following a day of talks with Mr Zelensky in Kyiv.
Mr Scholz said he saw “no reasonable justification” for Russia’s military activity on Ukraine’s border, and that “we are ready for a serious dialogue with Russia on European security issues”.
It comes as the US and UK stressed a “crucial window for diplomacy” remains open to avert war in Eastern Europe.
In a call on Monday evening, Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden agreed western allies should stay “united in the face of Russian threats”, including imposing a “significant package of sanctions” against Moscow should tensions escalate.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “They agreed there remained a crucial window for diplomacy and for Russia to step back from its threats towards Ukraine.
“The leaders emphasised that any further incursion into Ukraine would result in a protracted crisis for Russia, with far-reaching damage for both Russia and the world.” – iNews