Russia claims to pull some of its troops back from Ukraine, yet elsewhere buildup goes on
Russia’s Defense Ministry has said regiments from the Western and Southern Military Districts are returning to base following the completion of military exercises next to Ukraine’s borders, the Russian news agency Interfax reported on Feb. 15.
After meeting their objectives, regiments of Southern and Western Military Districts are loading onto rail and automobile transport, and will start moving towards their bases today,” said Igor Konashenkov, a Russian Defense Ministry Spokesperson.
“Some regiments will march at their own pace, in columns.”
He added that other Russian troops continue to engage in various military exercises.
Specifically, forces of the Eastern Military District and airborne brigades are participating in the joint Russia-Belarus Union Resolve–2022 exercises, where they practice repelling an attack on the Union State (the name of the formal union of Belarus and Russia).
Investigative journalist Christo Grozev, the open-source investigation outlet Bellingcat’s lead Russia investigator, has said on Twitter that he has not seen evidence of this supposed Russian drawdown.
Meanwhile fresh commercial satellite imagery on Feb. 15 showed Russian attack helicopters and warplanes had been deployed to airbases close to Ukraine. Such air units are usually the last to be deployed ahead of an attack.
In addition, Russian spokesman Konashenkov said that Russian naval exercises were continuing in the Black Sea.
“(Our) ships, submarines, and naval air force are engaging in naval military exercises in operationally significant parts of the world’s oceans and adjacent to Russian seas,” Konashenkov said.
Russia had previously announced that it would be blocking off portions of the Black and Azov Seas for what it says are “naval exercises,” with Ukrainian observers saying these blocked-off portions constituted a “blockade” and a violation of Ukraine’s coastal and sea territory.
On Feb. 10, U.S. President Joe Biden met with his national security advisors to discuss the situation around Ukraine’s borders, as per Reuters. Russian naval exercises in the Black Sea and military drills in Belarus left officials convinced that “the situation is approaching a critical point.”
Earlier, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said that media is oversaturated on the subject of a potential Russian invasion, and urged the public to remain calm, assuring that “everything is under control.”
Russia has deployed additional forces near Ukraine’s border and could launch an invasion at a moment’s notice, even during the Beijing Winter Olympics, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Feb. 11.
U.S. political news outlet Politico reported that U.S. President Joe Biden has briefed Washington’s NATO and EU allies on Moscow’s plans to invade Ukraine on Feb. 16, while the Bloomberg news agency speculated that a Russian military offensive in Ukraine could begin on Feb. 15.
Ukrainian military experts from the Center for Defense Strategies have disagreed with foreign media assessment, writing that they see no evidence that would indicate a large-scale assault from the Russian side as of yet.
Currently, there are approximately 140,000 Russian troops surrounding Ukraine, from Russia, Belarus, and the temporarily occupied territories.
The Kremlin denies gearing up for invasion, and has instead accused Ukraine of planning false flag operations, as well as of drawing up plans to use force to restore Kyiv’s control over territories lost since 2014.
However, the Kremlin has declined to provide a guarantee of non-invasion, and has supplied no evidence of this alleged planned Ukrainian offensive.
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