RUSSIA said it was withdrawing some of its troops from the Ukrainian border – despite artillery and tanks appearing to remain in attack position.
Although Liz Truss warned that a Russian invasion was “imminent and highly likely”, Ukraine has now insisted its diplomatic talks with Western allies have successfully blocked an incursion.
The Russian Defense Ministry said some troops in its military districts near Ukraine were returning to their bases on Tuesday after completing drills.
While exercises will continue across the country, some units have “completed their tasks in large-scale exercises.”
Military spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said: “The units of the southern and western military districts, having completed their tasks, have already started loading on rail and road transport and today , they will begin to move towards their military garrisons.”
Footage released showed tanks and other armored vehicles being loaded onto flat cars.
The Ministry of Defense said it would use trucks to move some military equipment while some troops would march to the barracks on their own.
The apparent moves run counter to urgent warnings from the US and UK that Russia could invade Ukraine at any moment.
And Ms Truss said she would need a full-scale withdrawal of Russian troops from the Ukrainian border to believe Moscow had no invasion plans.
Asked about reports that some Russian troops are expected to return to their bases, she told LBC: “I haven’t seen the information you refer to.
“Certainly our latest intelligence suggests an invasion is imminent, very likely and we have seen 100,000 troops stationed around the border.
“Separately, the Russians have claimed they have no invasion plan, but we will need a full-scale troop withdrawal to show that to be true.”
Meanwhile, Ukraine has insisted its diplomatic efforts with its Western allies have been successful.
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Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters today: “We and our allies managed to prevent Russia from any further escalation.
“We are already in mid-February, and you see that diplomacy continues to work.”
Despite the reported troop withdrawal, a US official said Russia moved long-range artillery and rocket launchers into firing position on Monday.
And Ms Truss said Britain and the West are ‘always preparing for the worst’.
An assessment by Western intelligence found, “We would expect several sequenced attacks, not a single strike.”
It could mean a sudden push against Kyiv, using precision strikes.
Other key towns would be surrounded by Putin’s tanks and troops while being pounded by planes and helicopter gunships.
The Foreign Secretary warned that Europe was now “on the brink of war” with a Russian invasion “imminent and highly probable”.
And she fears that a Russian invasion “won’t stop in Ukraine.”
She told Sky News: “What I fear is an attack that would not stop in Ukraine but spread to Eastern Europe.
“If we were to see an invasion of Ukraine, it would have significant costs in terms of a long-lasting conflict. It would jeopardize the long-term security of Europe.”
The grave assessment came as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declared tomorrow a day of unity and urged his people to stand up and sing the national anthem at 10 a.m.
He said, “We don’t know how to give up and we won’t learn how to. We believe in our own strength and will continue to build the future together. We are united by love for Ukraine.”
It comes after Russia staged a frenzy of new military deployments and war games near the Ukrainian border in recent days.
Chilling footage showed hundreds of paratroopers falling from the sky during exercises in the Kostrama region.
And more than 30 warplanes participated in naval exercises in the Black Sea to destroy simulated enemy submarines in waters near Ukraine.
Boris Johnson held crisis talks with US President Joe Biden last night, after he said it was ‘pretty clear’ that Russia will invade within days.
He warned that an invasion would lead to a “protracted crisis with considerable damage for Russia and the world”.
But a Downing Street spokesman insisted there “remained a crucial window for diplomacy and for Russia to withdraw from its threats to Ukraine”.
- The Russian Defense Ministry says some troops deployed near Ukraine are returning to their bases after completing drills
- German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Russian President Vladimir Putin are due to meet to defuse tensions
- Prime Minister Boris Johnson to lead emergency Cobra meeting
- Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said there was still a British ‘presence’ in Kyiv
- Top EU diplomat Josep Borrell says the European Union is ready to discuss Russia’s security concerns
- Norway will increase its contribution to NATO forces in Lithuania from 50 to 60 soldiers
- Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen discussed the situation in Ukraine in a phone call on Tuesday
- The European Parliament has approved a $1.36 billion EU aid package for Ukraine
- Ukraine says its joint diplomatic efforts with its Western allies succeeded in averting a feared Russian invasion
No10 said Boris and Biden had agreed to keep in touch as the situation “evolves”.
Reports have warned that 60% of Russian ground forces are within striking range.
The Prime Minister cut short a tour of Scotland and locked himself in with spy chiefs.
Mr Johnson warned: ‘This is a very, very dangerous and difficult situation. We are on the edge of a precipice. The signs are… they’re planning at least something that could happen in the next 48 hours. It is extremely worrying.
After chairing an emergency Cobra meeting, Ms Truss said an invasion could be imminent and urged all Britons to evacuate by any means possible.
Informing MPs in private, the Foreign Secretary said she thought the invasion was “highly likely”. Mr Johnson will host further talks for intelligence and military chiefs today.
Ms Truss said this morning: “I am very worried about the situation. We could be on the brink of war in Europe.
“This would have serious consequences not only for the peoples of Russia and Ukraine, but also for the wider security of Europe.
“There is still time for Vladimir Putin to step back from the abyss. But he has little time left to do so.”
She warned that in the event of an invasion, Kremlin troops could reach the capital Kiev “very, very quickly” from neighboring Belarus.
Ms Truss said the city would “definitely” be a high priority target.
And she said Moscow would likely start any attack with a “false flag operation”, such as a fake attack on Russian separatists.
She said: “There could be false claims that they were provoked to give a pretext for the Russian invasion.
“What we did was we called the Russians, we denounced their attempts to set up a puppet government in Kyiv.
“Over the next few days there could be an attempt to pretend the Ukrainians are attacking them, so the Russians have a justification for invading.”
A total of 140,000 combat-ready Russians are on its southern and eastern borders, including 40,000 on exercise in Belarus to the north.
Saboteurs have also poured into Ukraine and could carry out assassinations and attack electricity and gas networks, sources fear.
Russian state TV launched a propaganda campaign with outlandish claims that Ukrainian nationalists were about to slaughter pro-Russians in the east – saying they would ‘kill and slaughter you all and hang your children to sons”.
Similar tactics were used to drum up national support for Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the land grab by pro-Russian forces in Donbass in 2014.
More manipulative television coverage followed as Putin allowed cameras to film a bizarre exchange in which he considered going to war.
In a staged clip, Putin asked his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov whether talks with the West would meet Russia’s demands or simply “draw on” forever.
Lavrov, seated at a long conference table, said he would not allow “endless negotiations on issues that require a solution today.”
But he urged Putin to keep the door open, insisting “there is always a chance”.
Yesterday, a British C17 transport plane flew in and out of Kyiv to evacuate military personnel. The United States said it was moving its embassy 340 miles west of Kiev to Lviv – and ordered the destruction of computers that might fall into Russian hands.
The oligarchs leave in private jets. And insurers fear that they will no longer be able to cover the risk of commercial flights.
German leader Olaf Scholz flew to Kyiv ahead of his trip to meet Putin in Moscow today with a ‘last roll of the dice’ plea for peace.
But Putin has so far refused to back down on his demand that Ukraine never be allowed to join NATO.