What to know on hopes of averting war

BERLIN (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin is hosting Germany’s chancellor on Tuesday after the Kremlin signaled that it was still possible for diplomacy to head off what Western officials have said could be an imminent invasion of Ukraine.

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In another possible sign that the Kremlin would like to lower the temperature, Russia announced that some units participating in military exercises would begin returning to their bases.

But much remains unclear about Russia’s intentions and how the crisis over Ukraine will play out.

Here’s a look at what is happening where and why:

WHAT IS THE RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT SAYING?

Russia’s Defense Ministry announced that some units participating in exercises would start returning to their bases. But it wasn’t immediately clear where exactly these troops were deployed or how many were leaving.

The news came a day after Western officials said some forces and military hardware were moving toward the border, muddying the picture. Russia denies it has any plans to invade Ukraine, despite placing troops on Ukraine’s borders to the north, south and east and launching massive military drills nearby.

Russia has massed more than 130,000 troops near Ukraine. While the US agreed that there was still a possibility of a diplomatic path out, Washington, London and other allies have kept up their warnings that those forces could move on Ukraine at any moment.

At a meeting with Putin on Monday, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov indicated that Russia was ready to keep talking about the security grievances that have led to the crisis.

WHAT’S HAPPENING ON THE DIPLOMATIC FRONT?

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is meeting Putin in Moscow, a day after he visited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv in a show of solidarity.

On Monday, Scholz demanded “clear steps to de-escalate the current tensions” from Russia. And he underlined Western unity in preparing to impose tough sanctions if Russia does encroach further into Ukraine, though once again he didn’t specify what exactly whose would be.

Scholz said that “we are in a position any day to take the necessary decisions.”

“No one should doubt the determination and preparedness of the EU, NATO, Germany and the United States, for example, when it comes to what has to be done if there is military aggression against Ukraine,” he added. “We will then act, and there will be very far-reaching measures that would have significant influence on Russia’s possibilities of economic development.”

Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau of Poland, one of Russia’s most strident European critics but also currently the chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, was in Moscow to meet Lavrov. Ukraine’s foreign minister hosted his Italian counterpart.

WHAT ARE NATO ALLIES SAYING?

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said a Russian invasion of Ukraine “could be imminent,” but there’s still time for Putin “to step away from the brink.”

Truss said before Russia made its announcement about pulling back some military units that “we believe that Vladimir Putin has not yet made a decision about whether to invade Ukraine. We think it’s highly likely.”

“There are huge numbers of troops lined up on the border. We know that they’re in a position to attack imminently, but he can still change his mind and that is why diplomacy is so vital,” she told Sky News.

Truss said an invasion might involve “an attack on Kyiv” as well as “an attack from the east.”

“What we do expect over the next few days is there could be an attempt of a false flag operation to create a pretext to claim the Ukrainians are attacking them, so that the Russians have a justification for invading Ukraine,” she added.

In Oslo, Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said that “a Russian attack on Ukraine may be imminent.”

Huitfeldt was speaking as Russia made its announcement that some units would be sent back to their bases.

Defense Minister Odd-Roger Enoksen said Norway is strengthening its contribution in Lithuania with 50-60 soldiers to strengthen the allied presence in the Baltic states. The contingent will be sent there for a three-month period, with a possibility of extension.

Dasha Litvinova in Moscow, Yuras Karmanau in Kyiv, Jill Lawless in London and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen contributed to this report.

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