On Wednesday the Russian defense ministry released video showing a trainload of armored vehicles moving across a bridge away from Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Moscow annexed in 2014. It followed a similar announcement a day earlier, while Russian President Vladimir Putin also talked up the possibility of a diplomatic resolution to the crisis.
But leaders in Washington and Europe have urged caution, with Moscow’s intentions unclear and little detail given about how many troops were pulling back and where they were headed.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that in fact Russia had “increased the number of troops — and more troops are on the way.”
He told reporters in Brussels, Belgium: “If they really start to withdraw forces, that’s something we will welcome,” but added that Russia has “always moved forces back and forth” so a “movement of forces, of battle tanks, doesn’ t confirm a real withdrawal.”
President Joe Biden said Tuesday it was still “very much a possibility” that Russia could invade Ukraine, warning it could also lead to a spike in American energy prices.
While the US is ready to engage in diplomacy, he said, his administration has not verified any partial drawdown of troops.
Mark Galeotti, a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a London think tank, said invasion was not inevitable, and that Putin would likely prefer gaining concessions without force.
But despite Russian claims of a partial withdrawal, “nothing has changed on the ground in any meaningful way,” Galeotti tweeted Wednesday. “Putin could have invaded yesterday, he can still do so tomorrow.”