Europe

Despite assurances of a troop withdrawal, Russia increases troops near Ukraine.

As Ukrainians raised flags in defiance of a feared Russian invasion, the US claimed that Moscow had increased up to 7,000 troops to forces stationed along the tense border, contradicting Kremlin assertions that military units were being withdrawn.

The initial fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine were unfounded on Wednesday. However, after a flurry of encouraging signals from Moscow earlier this week that helped to de-escalate tensions, the pendulum appeared to swing back the other way.

With an estimated 150,000-plus Russian forces encircling the country on three sides, Western allies maintained that an invasion was a high possibility.

Russia’s demands that the West keep Ukraine and other former Soviet republics out of NATO, cease weapons deployments near Russian borders, and withdraw military from Eastern Europe are at the heart of the conflict.

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

Despite Russia’s claims that it is withdrawing some troops, a senior US administration official stated that some personnel had only recently arrived and that there had been a sharp surge in Russians making bogus accusations that the Kremlin might use as a pretext for an invasion.

According to the source, these statements included reports of unmarked graves of civilians purportedly killed by Ukrainian forces, as well as assertions that the Ukrainian military was responsible for the deaths.

The official talked to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about sensitive operations. The official provided no supporting evidence for his claims.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said ABC News, “We haven’t seen a pullback.” “President Vladimir Putin of Russia has the ability to pull the trigger.” He’ll be able to pull it off today. He’ll be able to pull it off tomorrow. He’ll be able to pull it off next week. If he wants to restart his war against Ukraine, the military are ready.”

When asked why Russians would claim to be withdrawing when there was no evidence of that in government intelligence, commercial satellite photos, or social media videos, State Department spokesman Ned Price said, “This is the Russian playbook, to paint a picture publicly… while they do the opposite.”

New photos show increased Russian military activity near Ukraine, including the construction of a pontoon bridge in Belarus less than 6 kilometers (4 miles) from the Ukrainian border, according to Maxar Technologies, a commercial satellite imagery company that has been monitoring the Russian buildup.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, like some European nations, claimed the alliance had not witnessed “any drawdown of Russian forces.”

Russian assertions were also refuted by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“What exactly is this?” “Rotations, withdrawals, and returns,” he stated during a visit to Mariupol in the southeast. “It’s too soon to be happy.”

Wednesday was named a day of “national unity” by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who has frequently sought to project calm and strength amid the crisis. It was a day that had been suggested as a possible commencement date for an invasion.

“We are united by a desire to live happily in peace,” Zelenskyy said in a speech to the nation. “Only by being unified will we be able to save our homeland.”

Ukrainians of all ages waved flags in the streets and from apartment windows around the country.

A 200-meter (650-foot) flag was unfurled by hundreds at Kyiv’s Olympic Stadium, while another was draped in the heart of a retail mall in the city.

Since 2014, Russian-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian troops in the government-controlled sector of Ukraine’s eastern region of Luhansk.

“This event, this large crowd gathered around the Ukrainian flag, will demonstrate that we want a unified Ukraine,” local Olena Tkachova remarked.

The worst of the conflict in eastern Ukraine was brought to a halt by a 2015 settlement mediated by France and Germany, but its implementation has stalled. Many in Ukraine are opposed to the pact, known as the Minsk agreement, because it would give separatist territory broad autonomy.

In a television interview, a Ukrainian government official indicated Zelenskyy would consider calling a referendum on the Minsk deal “if there are no other options or instruments.” Vice Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk, on the other hand, stated she was unaware that such a proposal was being seriously considered.

On Thursday, the United Nations Security Council will convene its yearly meeting on the Minsk agreement. The meeting will be chaired by Russia, which holds the rotating council leadership this month. Russia battled with the US and its Western partners at last year’s council meeting over the situation in eastern Ukraine, and a similar, though possibly wider, showdown is predicted this year.

Putin has stated that he prefers a peaceful resolution to the problem. His country has often protested that the US and NATO have failed to adequately react to its security concerns in writing. Russia is in the last stages of crafting its formal response to the West, according to Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

“After that, we’ll prepare a calendar of next measures,” she stated on state television.

It appeared to be yet another sign that the Kremlin is prepared to keep the pressure on for the foreseeable future.

Russia is currently flexing its muscles. As part of enormous war simulations that the West feared may be used as cover for an invasion of Ukraine, Russian fighter planes flew training missions over Belarus and paratroopers held shooting drills at firing ranges there.

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