NATO has urged Russia to prove it is pulling back troops from around Ukraine’s borders, with the military alliance’s secretary-general warning of signs that Moscow was massing more forces near its neighbour despite claims of a drawdown.
“It remains to be seen whether there is a Russian withdrawal … What we see is that they have increased the number of troops, and more troops are on the way,” Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on Wednesday at the start of a two-day meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels.
His remarks came as Russia said more of the estimated 100,000 plus soldiers it has deployed near Ukraine in recent months were withdrawing after Moscow initially announced a partial pullback a day earlier.
Meanwhile, Ukrainians were marking “a day of unity” called for by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy amid claims from the United States that Russia may be readying to invade imminently.
Here are the latest updates:
NATO ‘firmly believes Russia is poised to invade’
Al Jazeera’s Neave Barker, reporting from Brussels, says NATO’s position on Russia’s military buildup has not changed despite Moscow’s announcement of a pullback.
“The alliance firmly believes that Russia is poised to potentially invade Ukraine,” he said.
Barker also described the meeting of NATO defence ministers in the Belgian capital as a “chance for them to reconnect with the mothership and consolidate their stance” over the crisis.
Moscow welcomes ‘positive’ sign from Biden on talks
The Kremlin says it is “positive” that US President Joe Biden has signalled a desire to continue talks with Moscow amid its standoff with the West.
“We can welcome that the president of the United States, one of the most powerful countries, thinks about the Russian nation,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “[But] Of course, we would rather not hear the threats about what will happen to us if we do something or not do something … We are tired of these.”
A day earlier, Biden had vowed to push for a diplomatic solution to the crisis, but he also warned that a Russian invasion remained “very much a possibility” and that retaliatory sanctions were primed and ready should Moscow attack.
Lavrov says Moscow will retaliate if UK imposes new sanctions
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said Moscow will retaliate should the United Kingdom impose new sanctions over the Ukraine crisis.
The UK threatened on Tuesday to block Russian companies from raising capital in London and to expose property and company ownership if Russia invades its neighbour.
China accuses Western powers of ‘playing up the threat of warfare’
China has accused the US and its Western allies of “playing up the threat of warfare and creating tension” amid the Ukraine crisis.
“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,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters at a regular briefing in Beijing.
Washington has urged American citizens to leave Ukraine immediately, warning an attack could come at any time despite Russia repeatedly denying it has any plans to invade. The UK has done the same.
Kremlin denies Russian involvement in Ukraine cyberattacks
The Kremlin spokesman has denied that Russia was behind a series of distributed denial of service (DDOS) cyberattacks on Ukraine’s defence ministry and two major banks but said that it was not surprising Kyiv would blame Moscow for the incidents.
“As expected, Ukraine continues blaming Russia for everything. Russia has nothing to do with any DDOS attacks,” Peskov told reporters.
Kyiv had earlier said the cyberattacks could have been orchestrated by Moscow.
NATO and the Ukraine-Russia crisis: Five key things to know
The future of NATO, the transatlantic security alliance, is at the centre of the standoff between Russia and the West over Ukraine.
Click here to find out more.
Movement of Russian troops does not confirm pullback, NATO chief says
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has urged Russia to prove that it is pulling back troops from Ukraine’s borders.
“It remains to be seen whether there is a Russian withdrawal … What we see is that they have increased the number of troops, and more troops are on the way,” Stoltenberg told reporters at the start of a two-day meeting of NATO defence ministers at the US-led alliance’s headquarters in Brussels.
“If they really start to withdraw forces, that’s something we will welcome … They have always moved forces back and forth so just that we see movement of forces, of battle tanks, doesn’t confirm a real withdrawal.”
Ukrainians face ‘game of cat and mouse’ with stoic calm
Ukrainians living in the country’s east are carrying on their daily lives, mostly as usual, as local analysts warn the crisis may rumble on for months to come.
“This could even last indefinitely – the game of cat and mouse is just getting started,” Peter Zalmayev, director of the Eurasia Democracy Initiative, a think-tank on post-Soviet states, told Al Jazeera.
Read more here.
Russia bolstering troop numbers near Ukraine, Canada’s defence minister says
Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand says she hopes to see evidence of a Russian troop withdrawal from around Ukraine’s borders but warned that, for the moment, numbers were increasing.
“The escalation of Russian troops at the Ukrainian border, including in Belarus, is increasingly significant,” Anand told reporters as she arrived for the meeting of NATO defence ministers.
“We look forward to seeing evidence of the withdrawal of troops on Russia’s part. But we need to prepare for any eventuality with that significant escalation of Russian troops that we have seen over the last weeks,” she said, adding the situation was at a pivotal moment.
Timeline: Ukraine’s turbulent history
Ukraine has faced significant challenges since winning independence in 1991.
For a timeline of developments, click here.
‘We are here to stay’: Ukrainians raise flags in show of national unity
Ukrainians are raising national flags and playing the country’s anthem to mark the country’s “day of unity”.
The yellow and blue banner fluttered outside schools, hospitals and many shops, while a loudspeaker at a local government office in the capital, Kyiv, blared patriotic songs. National television and government Youtube channels also broadcast speeches and rousing reminders of Ukraine’s nationhood.
“Everyone wants to scare us … [but] we are here to stay,” Ludmila, a pensioner, who wore a tiny Ukrainian flag on the lapel of her coat, told Reuters.
Russian soldiers will leave Belarus once drills conclude, foreign minister says
Belarusian foreign minister Vladimir Makei says no Russian soldiers or military equipment will remain in the country after the pair’s joint military drills come to an end.
Moscow has repeatedly said the tens of thousands of troops it deployed to neighbouring Belarus, which also borders Ukraine, for war games will leave once the exercises are over.
‘A choice between war and tragic sacrifices’: EU Council president
European Council President Charles Michel has urged Russia to demonstrate its will to de-escalate the crisis by actions rather than words.
“In the last two days, Russia has signalled that it may be open to diplomacy, and we urge Russia to take concrete and tangible steps towards de-escalation because this is the condition for sincere political dialogue,” Michel told European lawmakers.
“The choice today is a choice between war and tragic sacrifices that would go along with that war or the courage of a political engagement, the courage of a diplomatic negotiation”, he added.
— Charles Michel (@eucopresident) February 16, 2022
Ukraine’s defence ministry reports ongoing ‘unprecedented’ cyberattack on its web portal
Ukraine’s defence ministry says its web portal has been hit by an unprecedented denial of service cyberattack that is still ongoing.
The ministry said hackers had succeeded in finding vulnerabilities in the portal’s programming code. Traffic was being rerouted to servers in the US while the issue was being fixed, it said.
The issue was first reported on Tuesday when a series of cyberattacks also knocked two major banks offline, officials in the country said.
Russia says video shows military equipment leaving Crimea
Russia’s defence ministry has released video footage that it says shows a column of tanks and military vehicles leaving annexed Crimea after drills, adding that some troops would also return to their permanent bases.
“Combat equipment and military personnel will be delivered by military trains to the units’ permanent deployment points,” the ministry said. “Upon arrival, the equipment will be serviced and prepared for carrying out the next phase of combat training.”
The video, published by Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency, showed dozens of military vehicles crossing a railway bridge at night. Moscow seized the Crimean Peninsula from Kyiv in early 2014.
UK says no evidence of Russian withdrawal from Ukraine’s border
The UK is yet to see any evidence that Russia is withdrawing troops from positions near the Ukrainian border, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said.
“We haven’t seen any evidence at the moment of that withdrawal,” Wallace told the UK’s Times Radio. “We’ll take Russia at its word, but we will judge them on their actions,” he added.
Russia announces end of Crimea military drills, troops leaving
Russia said military drills in Moscow-annexed Crimea had ended and soldiers were returning to their garrisons, a day after it announced a first troop pullback from Ukraine’s borders.
“Units of the Southern Military District, having completed their participation in tactical exercises, are moving to their permanent deployment points,” Moscow’s defence ministry said in a statement, as state television showed images of military units crossing a bridge linking the Russian-controlled peninsula to the mainland.
Ukraine defence minister sees stable security situation
Oleksii Reznikov says the latest threat assessments did not contain “anything unexpected” and were consistent with earlier views.
In a televised statement, Ukraine’s defence minister said his country’s armed forces were keeping up a nationwide military drill, one of which would be attended by the military attache of Belarus.
Russia makes moves to ease Ukraine tensions, West remains sceptical
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow does not want war and would rely on diplomatic efforts to eliminate any chance that Ukraine could one day join NATO – his key demand in the crisis. At the same time, he did not commit to a full military pullback, saying Russia’s next moves in the standoff will depend on how the situation evolves.
Biden, for his part, promised that Washington would give diplomacy “every chance”, but he struck a sceptical tone about Moscow’s intentions.
“Two paths are still open,” Biden said in remarks at the White House. “But let there be no doubt: if Russia commits this breach by invading Ukraine, responsible nations around the world will not hesitate to respond. If we do not stand for freedom where it is at risk today, we’ll surely pay a steeper price tomorrow.”
Wheat and corn prices ride the Ukrainian rollercoaster
The crisis between Ukraine and Russia, two of the world’s biggest wheat and corn producers, has sent the commodities’ prices on a wild ride.
The grains’ markets turned around three times in less than 24 hours this week: first on the Russian foreign minister’s optimistic tone on Monday, then on news of the US relocating its Ukrainian embassy, and finally on Moscow’s claims of a military pullback.
“The market doesn’t know nuance: Either it’s war and it goes up, or it’s peace and it goes down,” said Gautier Le Molgat, an analyst at Agritel.
The stakes are especially high for wheat, with Russia being the world’s top exporter and Ukraine the fourth, according to estimates by the US Department of Agriculture. Together, the two countries account for almost a third of wheat’s world trade.
China may take advantage of Ukraine crisis, US general warns
US General Kenneth Wilsbach, head of US Pacific Air Forces, says China might do something “provocative” in Asia while the Western world is preoccupied with the Ukraine crisis.
“From the standpoint of will China see what’s happening in Europe and … try to do something here in the Indo-Pacific – absolutely yes, that’s a concern,” Wilsbach said, using an alternative term for the Asia-Pacific region.
Beijing has aligned itself with Moscow amid the current crisis.