MOSCOW – Russia has made two overtures to relax tensions around Ukraine – announcing the withdrawal of troops near the neighbor and welcoming the talks with the West. But the United States and its allies have said they need evidence of troop movements and that the threat of a Russian invasion still looms.
On the second day on Tuesday, there were signs of hope that Europe could avoid war after weeks of escalating tensions between East and West, when Moscow grouped about 150,000 troops from three sides of Ukraine and conducted massive military exercises. These steps have led to serious warnings from Washington, London and other European capitals that Russia is preparing to invade Ukraine.
But the tenor has changed this week. President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Russia does not want a war and will look forward to talks in its efforts to eliminate any chance that Ukraine may ever join NATO – its key demand in the crisis. At the same time, he did not go for a complete setback, saying that Russia’s next steps in the confrontation will depend on how the situation develops.
Russia has also offered several details of the rollback, and President Joe Biden told U.S. officials did not confirm Russia’s claims. He promised that the United States would give diplomacy “every chance”, but expressed skepticism about Moscow’s intentions.
“Two paths are still open,” Biden said in a White House speech. – But let there be no doubt: if Russia commits this violation by invading Ukraine, the responsible countries around the world will respond without hesitation. If we do not defend freedom where it is under threat today, tomorrow we will certainly pay a higher price. “
Even among glimpses of hopeBiden said 150,000 Russian troops were now gathered near Ukraine and neighboring Belarus, more than the United States had previously estimated at 130,000.
Russia’s assertion that it has withdrawn troops “would be good, but we have not yet verified that,” Biden said. “Indeed, our analysts show that they remain in a very threatening position.”
Russia denies plans to invade. He wants the West to keep Ukraine and other former Soviet countries out of NATO, to stop deploying weapons near Russia’s borders and to withdraw forces from Eastern Europe.
The United States and its allies have categorically rejected these demands, but have offered to enter into talks with Russia on ways to strengthen security in Europe.
Speaking after meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Putin said the West had agreed to discuss a ban on missile deployments in Europe, restrictions on military exercises and other confidence-building measures – issues that Moscow brought to the table many years ago.
He said Russia was open to discussing “some of these elements”, but added that it would only do so in conjunction with “major issues of paramount importance to us”.
While Scholz reiterated that NATO enlargement to the east “is not on the agenda – everyone knows it well”, Putin retorted that Moscow was not reassured by such assurances.
“We are told that this will not happen tomorrow,” Putin said. “Well, when will it be? The day after tomorrow? What does this change for us in historical perspective? Nothing.
Scholz also said that diplomatic opportunities were “far from exhausted”, and described the announcement of the withdrawal of troops as a “good signal”, adding: “We hope there will be more.”
Russia’s Defense Ministry has published images of tanks and howitzers rolling on railway platforms, as well as new tanks rolling on snow-covered fields. It does not say where and when the pictures were taken, as well as where the vehicles were headed, except “to the places of permanent deployment.”
Ukraine has expressed skepticism.
“We will not believe when we hear, we will believe when we see,” said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba.
And NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that so far there were no signs of reducing the military presence on Ukraine’s borders.
Meanwhile, a series of cyberattacks knocked out the sites of the Ukrainian army, the Ministry of Defense and major banks. There were no indications that relatively low-level denial-of-service attacks could be a smokescreen for more serious cybercrime. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States has not yet determined who is behind the attacks.
Despite the worst East-West tensions in decades, few Russians expect war. In a village in the Belgorod region of Russia, about 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the border with Ukraine, residents led a normal life, even as more and more soldiers passed through the streets of the village.
“We are really on the border, we really have relatives there and there, everyone has someone” from the Ukrainian side, said villager Lyudmila Nechvalad. “Nobody wants a war.”
Russian lawmakers have called on Putin to recognize insurgent-controlled territories in eastern Ukraine as independent states. The State Duma, Russia’s lower house, has voted to send an appeal to Putin.
Putin said the request reflects the Russian public’s condolences to the suffering of people in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which has killed more than 14,000 people since 2014. However, he noted that Russia still believes that the 2015 peace agreement, mediated by France and Germany, should serve as the main means of resolving the separatist conflict.
More AP about the Ukrainian crisis: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
Karmanov reported from Kyiv (Ukraine) and Madhani from Washington. Associated Press writers Dasha Litvinova in Moscow, Angela Charlton in Paris, Lorne Cook in Brussels, Monica Szczylowska in Warsaw, Geir Mulson in Berlin, Jill Lawless in London, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark and Robert Burler, and Robert Burns. in Washington contributed to this report.
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