Russia to withdraw some troops, Ukraine warns not to jump to conclusions

(Update 1: Adds details throughout, quotes from Putin Scholz, re-leds, alter headline).

Moscow/Kiev, Feb 15 (EFE).- Some Russian military units have started returning to their permanent bases after concluding drills in western and southern military areas near the border with Ukraine although officials in Kiev on Tuesday said it was too early to say if the moves heralded a de-escalation in the region.

Igor Konashenkov, spokesman for the Russian defense ministry, said however that Russian armed forces would continue their troop readiness training, including the naval fleets and airborne units.

Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said it was too early to assume that the withdrawal of some military units signaled a de-escalation by Moscow, which has amassed over 100,000 troops near the borders.

“There are different statements coming in from the Russian Federation all the time. We have a rule: we won’t believe it when we hear it, but we will believe it when we see it,” he said.

In Brussels, Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance had not seen signs of de-escalation “on the ground” along Ukraine’s border but that recent developments from Moscow allowed for “cautious optimism” that diplomatic routes out of the stand-off were still possible.

“The signs coming from Moscow about a willingness to continue to engage in diplomatic efforts (…) give some reason for cautious optimism but we will follow very closely what is happening on the ground,” he said.


German chancellor Olaf Scholz echoed that message following his meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Tuesday a day after he met with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kiev.

“There are still prospects for negotiations and right now we need to strive for a diplomatic solution to this crisis,” he told a joint news conference.

“We have heard that some of these troops have been removed from the border area. We hope that this trend will continue, we welcome that.”

He added that security in Europe could only be achieved in cooperation with Russia.

Both leaders said they did not want to see war break out in Europe.

“People of his (Scholz’s) generation – I belong to the same generation – can hardly imagine another war in Europe,” Putin said.

“And of course this has been said in relation to the situation in Ukraine today but we have been witness to Europe, haven’t we, unleashed by the Nato bloc against Yugoslavia,” he added.

Putin added that he was prepared to discuss Moscow’s proposals with Nato and the United States, including a legally binding guarantee to halt the alliance’s eastward expansion, which Russia views as a threat to its security.


While the purported troop withdrawal hints at a potential de-escalation, tensions could be further raised after members of Russia’s lower chamber of parliament, the State Duma, on Tuesday approved an appeal for President Vladimir Putin to recognize the breakaway regions of Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, a cultural area known as the Donbas, much of which has been in the hands of pro-Russian separatists since 2014.

Moscow has already issued some 700,000 Russian passports to citizens of the self-proclaimed republics, which were declared around the same period Russia annexed Crimea following Ukraine’s pro-European revolution.

The ensuing war between separatist forces and the Ukrainian national army has killed over 13,000 people according to United Nations estimates and the two industrial cities, home to a significant population of ethnic Russians, remain outside Kiev’s control.

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