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West disputes Russian claims


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Nato demands proof of troops pullback; US says invasion fear persists
 
 

Residents carry Ukrainian national flag as they gather in the Olympic Stadium to mark the Unity Day, the day Western intelligence agencies allegedly said they’d be invaded by Russia, in Kyiv, Ukraine, yesterday. Photo: Reuters
Russia said more of its forces surrounding Ukraine were withdrawing yesterday but Nato urged Moscow to prove it was pulling back, saying there were signs that more troops were on the way.

In Ukraine, where people raised flags and played the national anthem to show unity against fears of an invasion, the defence ministry said a cyber attack was into its second day. Russia said it had nothing to do with that.

The Russian defence ministry said its forces were pulling back after completing exercises in the southern and western military districts near Ukraine.

It published video that it said showed tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and self-propelled artillery units leaving the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.

Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said a pullout would be welcome but that moving troops about did not confirm it.

"It remains to be seen whether there is a Russian withdrawal ... What we see is that they have increased the number of troops, and more troops are on the way," he told reporters at the start of a two-day meeting of Nato defence ministers at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels.

His comment was echoed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand.

The Kremlin said Nato's assessment was wrong. Moscow's ambassador to Ireland said forces in western Russia would be back to their normal positions within three to four weeks.

Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei yesterday said no Russian soldiers or military equipment will remain in the country after the pair's joint military drills come to an end.

The deployment in the Crimean peninsula was part of a huge build-up of Russian forces to the north, east and south of Ukraine since November that had prompted London and Washington to warn in recent days that a Russian invasion looked imminent.

China, which has cultivated closer ties with Russia as both countries have come under increasing criticism from the West, accused the United States of "playing up the threat of warfare and creating tension".

"Such persistent hyping up and disinformation by some Western countries will create turbulence and uncertainty to the world full of challenges, and intensify distress and division," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters at a regular briefing in Beijing.

Military analysts say a key indicator of a significant pullback will be whether field hospitals and fuel stores are dismantled and units from Russia's far east, which are taking part in huge exercises in Belarus this week, return to their bases thousands of miles away.

US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that more than 150,000 Russian troops were still amassed near Ukraine's borders and an invasion remained "distinctly possible". He said Washington had not yet verified any pullout.

Biden has warned repeatedly of steep costs for Russia if it attacks Ukraine, including sanctions against Russian businesses and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.

Russia has always denied planning to invade Ukraine but has been pressing for a set of security guarantees from the West including a promise that its neighbour Ukraine will never join Nato. The United States and its allies have rejected that.
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