Russia is reportedly sending some troops at the Ukrainian border back to their bases, according to the country’s Interfax news agency.
Interfax reported Tuesday that while the Russian Defense Ministry said large military exercises would continue, some units in its southern and western military districts had completed their drills and would be returning to their bases.
“The units of the Southern and Western military districts, having completed their tasks, have already begun loading onto rail and road transport and today they will begin moving to their military garrisons,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov reportedly told journalists.
Thousands of Russian troops began engaging in military drills last week in a move that was widely seen as a display of strength by Moscow. The drills came as more than 100,000 soldiers, tanks, missiles and even fresh blood supplies had been moved to Russia’s border with Ukraine.
Moscow has repeatedly insisted it has no plans to invade Ukraine, despite warnings from Western countries in recent days that an invasion is likely to be imminent.
Diplomacy ‘far from exhausted’
In a televised exchange on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told President Vladimir Putin that the avenues the Kremlin could use to secure the security guarantees it has demanded — including diplomacy — “are far from exhausted.”
While Lavrov suggested continuing along the diplomatic route, he added: “We have already warned more than once that we will not allow endless negotiations on questions that demand a solution today.”
Russia is demanding that Ukraine never be permitted to become a NATO member, and has said it wants the organization to roll back its presence in Eastern Europe.
Addressing the Ukrainian population on Monday, the country’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine “wants peace and we want to resolve all issues exclusively through negotiations.” But he added that Ukraine could respond to any aggression with its “great army” that has “unique combat experience and modern weapons.”
In a phone call on Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed that “a crucial window for diplomacy” still remained.
Biden and Johnson agreed that “any further incursion into Ukraine would result in a protracted crisis for Russia, with far reaching damage for both Russia and the world,” and that a significant package of sanctions — including reducing European countries’ reliance on Russian gas — would be imposed if Russian aggression escalated.
On Tuesday, Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau — the current chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe — is due to convene talks in Moscow between Lavrov and the OSCE’s chairperson-in-office in Ukraine, Mikko Kinnunen.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is due to touch down in Moscow on Tuesday to meet with Putin. Scholz met with Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Monday.
Berlin is not expecting “concrete results” from the talks in Russia on Tuesday, according to Reuters, but Scholz is expected to emphasize that the Kremlin “should not underestimate the unity between the European Union, United States and Britain.”
War could break out ‘any day now’
Despite signals from various parties that diplomatic efforts to alleviate the situation are still on the table, the U.S. has warned that an invasion could still be imminent.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken ordered the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv to close on Monday, relocating staff to the city of Lviv in western Ukraine.
Meanwhile, British Foreign Minister Liz Truss told Sky News on Tuesday that “it is still the case that an invasion could be imminent, and it is highly likely.”
U.S. national security advisor Jake Sullivan told CNN on Sunday that a Russian attack on Ukraine could happen “any day now.” “That includes this coming week,” he said.
Security officials in Washington, London and Ukraine told Politico on Friday that U.S. intelligence officers had briefed allies last week that the invasion may begin on Wednesday Feb. 16. However, Sullivan said on Sunday that officials “cannot perfectly predict the day.”
According to thinktank Chatham House, recent research suggests one in four Ukrainians would be willing to physically defend their country if Russia were to invade.