In signs of easing tensions around its conflict over Ukraine, Russia on Wednesday said it was returning more troops and weapons stationed at the border back to its bases besides giving a nod to talks with the West. However, the US and some of its Nato allies are walking a tightrope on the matter.
On Tuesday, Russia’s Defense Ministry announced that some units participating in military exercises would begin returning to their bases. This came after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met Russian premier Vladimir Putin, where he reportedly demanded “clear steps to de-escalate the current tensions” from Russia.
Russia wants the West to keep Ukraine and other former Soviet nations out of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), halt weapons deployments near its borders and roll back forces from eastern Europe. The failure of diplomatic talks led Russia to station its troops near Ukraine, prompting the US and its allies to think a possible Russian invasion in Ukraine. However, Russia has denied having any invasion plans and called it the West’s “hysteria” and “madness”.
Here are today’s top ten developments on Russia-Ukraine conflict
1. After meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday, Vladimir Putin said he is ready to take a diplomatic route to dissolve tensions with the West. Putin said the West has agreed to discuss a ban on missile deployment to Europe, restrictions on military drills and other confidence-building measures.
Putin said Russia is open to discussing “some of those elements”, but added that it would do so only in combination “with the main issues that are of primary importance for us”.
Vladimir Putin has said Russia is ready to take a diplomatic route to dissolve tensions with the West. (Photo: Reuters)
2. After Vladimir Putin’s meeting with the German Chancellor on Tuesday, the Russian Defence Ministry released a video on Wednesday armoured vehicles moving across a bridge in a train away from Crimea. However, the Russian military hasn’t given the number of troops or weapons being withdrawn from the border.
A view shows a freight train transporting Russian military vehicles, which leave the Crimean peninsula towards the Russian mainland along a railway bridge across the Kerch Strait, in this still image taken from video released February 16, 2022. (Photo: Reuters)
3. Even as it claimed to pull some troops from the Ukrainian front, Russia continued to engage in training missions over Belarus that neighbours Ukraine to the north. Russian fighter jets flew training missions over Belarus and paratroopers held shooting drills at firing ranges. The West fears this could be used as a cover for a possible Russian invasion in Ukraine.
However, Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei reaffirmed that all Russian troops will leave the country by Sunday after the military drill is over.
4. US President Joe Biden said the White House remains sceptical of Russia’s claim of pulling troops from border, adding that the “invasion remains distinctly possible”.
“An invasion remains distinctly possible. That’s why I’ve asked several times that all Americans in Ukraine leave now before it’s too late to leave safely. It is why we have temporarily relocated our embassy from Kyiv to Lviv in western Ukraine, approaching the Polish border,” Joe Biden said.
5. Joe Biden also said the US is still open for diplomacy to resolve the conflict. “We are ready with diplomacy — to be engaged in diplomacy with Russia and our Allies and partners to improve stability and security in Europe as a whole. And we are ready to respond decisively to a Russian attack on Ukraine, which is still very much a possibility,” he said.
6. British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace also resonated with Joe Biden’s view. “It’s too soon to tell,” he said on Russia’s claim of withdrawal of troops. He noted that the Russians “haven’t taken the foot of the gas”.
“I think what we haven’t seen is evidence of withdrawal that has been claimed by the Kremlin,” the Associated Press quoted Ben Wallace as saying. “In fact, we’ve seen continued buildup of things like field hospitals and strategic weapons systems. Until we see a proper de-escalation, I think we should all be cautious about the direction of travel from the Kremlin.”
A member of the Ukrainian State Border Guard Service stands guard at the Goptovka crossing point on the border between Russia and Ukraine in Kharkiv Region, Ukraine. (Photo: Reuters)
7. Ukraine has also expressed skepticism over Russia’s claim. Ukrain’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said, “We in Ukraine have a rule: we don’t believe what we hear, we believe what we see. If a real withdrawal follows these statements, we will believe in the beginning of a real de-escalation.”
8. Meanwhile, China has accused the US 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,” Reuters quoted Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin as saying.
“We hope relevant parties will stop such disinformation campaigns and do more to benefit peace, mutual trust and cooperation,” Wang Wenbin said.
9. Amid Russia-Ukraine tensions, India is considering increasing the number of flights between India and Ukraine even as parents of some Indian students in Ukraine expressed concerns over the current situation in the country.
“Discussions are underway with civil aviation authorities and various airlines on how to increase the number of flights between India and Ukraine,” sources told India Today TV.
10. Russia’s claim of withdrawing troops came as a relief to oil prices as markets recouped losses on Wednesday. Brent crude was up $1.37, or 1.5%, at $94.65 a barrel around 1200 GMT, having slid 3.3 per cent overnight, according to Reuters. Both benchmarks hit their highest since September 2014 on Monday, with Brent touching $96.78 and WTI reaching $95.82.
(With inputs from Associated Press, Reuters)