NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday there was no evidence of a withdrawal of Russian forces from the Ukraine border, and that Russia is still capable of launching a “full-fledged invasion of Ukraine with no warning time.”
Russia on Tuesday and again Wednesday announced the end of some military drills, including in the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula, with video of what it said were military units going back to their home bases.
Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels ahead of a meeting of NATO defense ministers that a movement of Russian forces does not confirm a withdrawal, and that on previous occasions Russia has withdrawn troops from a particular location while leaving equipment in place so it can easily move the troops back in.
He said contrary to seeing a real withdrawal, NATO has seen Russia continuing its military buildup. But he said he hopes Russia will decide to engage in dialogue and “choose diplomacy instead of confrontation.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin is in favor of negotiations and positively viewed U.S. President Joe Biden’s willingness to engage in dialogue.
Biden said Tuesday the United States believes a Russian invasion of Ukraine is “still very much a possibility,” and he appealed to Putin to continue talks — or risk severe consequences.
“World War II was a war of necessity,” Biden said. “But if Russia attacks Ukraine, it would be a war of choice, or a war without cause or reason. I say these things not to provoke but to speak the truth, because the truth matters. Accountability matters. If Russia does invade in the days and weeks ahead, the human cost for Ukraine will be immense, and the strategic costs for Russia will also be immense. If Russia attacks Ukraine, it will be met with overwhelming international condemnation. The world will not forget that Russia chose needless death and destruction. Invading Ukraine will prove to be a self-inflicted wound. The United States and our allies and partners will respond decisively.”
Biden said the U.S. has made several proposals to address Russian and NATO security concerns, including “new arms control measures, new transparency measures, new strategic stability measures.”
On Tuesday, Putin said he is ready for negotiations with the U.S. and its NATO allies over missile deployments and military exercises in Europe.
After meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the Kremlin, Putin said he is willing to engage with the West even though it has continued to reject Moscow’s key demands to rule out possible NATO membership for Ukraine and other former Soviet states and pull back Western troops in Eastern Europe closest to Russia.
Stoltenberg reiterated Wednesday that only NATO’s 30 member states can decide which nations are eligible to join the alliance.
“Russia is not deciding who is going to be a member of NATO or not,” he said.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.