Ukraine tensions rise as West accuses Russia of lying about troop withdrawal

KYIV, Ukraine – Tensions over Ukraine suddenly increased on Wednesday when Western officials accused Russia of lying about whether it had actually begun withdrawing troops from the Ukrainian border.

After a day marked by glimmers of hope that the conflict can be resolved peacefully, a senior US official, who declined to be identified, told reporters it was far from over. able to withdraw the deployment, Moscow added more than 7,000 combatants. Western allies expressed similar doubts about Russia’s claims.

US officials directly accused Russia of lying, saying there was new evidence they were mobilizing for war.

British military officials on Wednesday said they had spotted Russian armored vehicles, helicopters and a field hospital moving towards the Ukraine border.

“Contrary to their claims, Russia continues to strengthen its military capabilities near Ukraine,” Lieutenant General Jim Hockenhull, the chief of Britain’s Defense Intelligence Service, said in a statement. “Russia has military forces ready to launch an invasion of Ukraine.

The West’s warnings stand in sharp contrast to Russia’s efforts to suggest it is de-escalating.

Just hours earlier, the Russian Defense Ministry released a video of a military convoy leaving Crimea across a 12-kilometer bridge to Russia that President Vladimir Putin ordered to build after the peninsula’s 2014 annexation. Kremlin spokesman praised the United States’ willingness to negotiate and offer constructive opinions.

With Wednesday night’s abrupt change, the outlines of any diplomatic solution to the crisis look once again indistinguishable.

In recent days, American officials have categorically refused to accept Russia’s claims of a pullback.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, in an interview on MSNBC, said that military units vital to an invasion force were continuing to move “towards the border, not away from it. border.”

In Brussels, defense ministers from NATO countries discussed ways to bolster military positions in the bloc’s eastern rim, while the group’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said he did not either. support the announcement of the withdrawal of Russian troops. “What we see is the Russian army is moving into position,” Mr. Stoltenberg said.

Mixed signals were emitted almost daily from Kyiv and Moscow, posing challenges to diplomats, analysts and military planners. All sides follow subtle strategies, trying to appear firm but not inflexible, to avoid being blamed in the event of war.

“There are a lot of hoaxes,” said Igor Novikov, a former foreign policy adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “It’s a poker game at the moment. But a game of poker is very dangerous”.

After talking about the diplomatic outlook in recent days, Putin remained silent about the crisis, asking no questions after a meeting with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, although his government continued to be open to diplomacy and rejected the idea of ​​an invasion.

For Putin, Russian analysts say, the plan still uses the threat of war to achieve far-reaching goals he wants to achieve peacefully: NATO’s presence in Eastern Europe becoming a more and recognition of an area of ​​Russian interest. regions, including Ukraine.

Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, said he hoped more Russian troops would stay near the border, in part to maintain that tension. “He will keep the pressure on until he has a satisfactory answer to his main question,” he said.

Mr. Putin appears to have eased tensions this week in part because he has made significant early gains in a diplomatic effort that could still last for months. For example, the United States said it was prepared to resume negotiations on the placement of short- and medium-range missiles in Europe. Some dialogue began last year.

Putin has many ways to maintain pressure, among them ominous new military moves, misinformation. and cyber attacks. He could also use political tactics such as Tuesday’s vote in the Kremlin-controlled Parliament, which called on Putin to recognize the independence of Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, a move he said he was not prepared to make.

“We are in the final stages,” Mr. Trenin said, suggesting that negotiations could continue for a while. “The game itself is still going.”

One aspect has emerged in public: a discussion among European, Russian and Ukrainian leaders and officials about whether Ukraine can address the threat by abandoning its ambitions to join NATO. . Analysts say the trick will be to come up with a plan that can be accepted by the Kremlin without triggering a backlash in Ukraine that could destabilize the government.

“Everyone has to step back a little here and make it clear to themselves that we cannot have a possible military conflict because of a question that is not on the agenda,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said later. meeting with Putin. Third, talk about Ukraine’s NATO membership.

Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, proposed the referendum as a way to sell what would certainly seem like a concession to the Ukrainian public.

“The President thinks that is likely to happen, if there are no other options or tools,” Ms. Vereshchuk said in a statement. an interview on Ukrainian television. The prospect of Russia agreeing to a referendum is uncertain, as preparations could take months, during which it would be costly for Moscow to maintain the threat of an invasion. going to happen.

But in a signal of US support, Wendy R. Sherman, Deputy Secretary of State, who in previous rounds of negotiations had refused to join Russia’s request that the US remove NATO membership for NATO Ukraine, said in an interview published Wednesday that it would support any decision by the Ukrainians.

Sherman told Yevropaiska Pravda, a Ukrainian news agency: “The decision remains with the Ukrainian people, what they want, where they see their future. “This is your choice.”

It seems unlikely that Mr. Putin will be satisfied with simple assurances that Ukraine does not currently intend to join NATO, or a vague moratorium. “They’re telling us it’s not going to happen tomorrow,” he said Tuesday. “Well, when does it happen? The day after tomorrow?”

Analysts have suggested a moratorium, between 20 and 25 years, to assuage Mr. Putin’s suspicions.

Mr. Scholz emphasized the idea of ​​a lengthy delay, saying that any Ukraine accession to NATO would not be possible during both terms. “I don’t know how long the president intends to stay in office,” he said, in a rare statement from a German leader directed at Putin. “I have a little feeling yet, but certainly not forever.”

Senior Russian officials have had some fun of their own, needing Washington for it its prediction that an invasion could begin on Wednesday – probably in the early hours of the morning, according to some news reports. Maria V. Zakharova, a regular spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said she would appreciate the US and British news agencies publishing the schedule for the Russian “invasion” next year, because ” I want to plan my vacation.”

Andrew E. Kramer reported from Kyiv, Anton Troianovski from Moscow and Michael D. Shear from Washington. David E. Sanger contributed reporting from Munich. Ukraine tensions rise as West accuses Russia of lying about troop withdrawal

Fry Electronics Team

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