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NATO: Russia Misleads World About Troops Near Ukraine

NATO: Russia Misleads World About Troops Near Ukraine

Allies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) accused Russia misleading the world and spreading “disinformation” by saying that some of its troops were returning to their bases, and said that Moscow had sent another 7,000 troops near its tense border with Ukraine.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the US embassy in Moscow told a Russian news agency that Russia has expelled the deputy head of the mission.

No details were given about Bart Gorman’s expulsion. The State Department confirmed this, calling the measure unfounded.

Spokesman Jason Rebholz told the RIA Novosti news agency that Gorman was the deputy head of the diplomatic mission and was in Russia on an indefinite visa. He has been in the country for less than three years, according to the report.

READ ALSO: Boris Johnson accuses Russia of trying to ‘discredit’ Ukraine by bombing a school

With Western fears Russia preparing an invasion, tensions also spiked Thursday along the line separating Ukrainian forces from Moscow-backed separatist rebels in the east of the country, where the two sides accused each other of intense bombing.

The United States and its NATO partners said they had yet to see any signs of Russia’s promised troop withdrawal.

“We have seen some of those troops getting closer to that border. We see them flying in more combat and support aircraft,” said US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, at the headquarters of the NATO in Brussels. “We see them improve their preparation in the Black Sea. We even see them replenishing their blood reserves. You don’t do these kinds of things for no reason, and you certainly don’t if you’re getting ready to pack up and go home.”

Moscow offered a diplomatic offer and handed the United States a response on Thursday to offers to start talks on limiting the deployment of missiles in Europe, restrictions on military exercises and other confidence-building measures.

As US Secretary of State Antony Blinken headed to New York for the UN Security Council meeting and then to Germany for the Munich Security Conference, Russia delivered its long-awaited responses to US proposals on Ukraine and European security in general.

READ ALSO: Russia says it will be forced to use military-technical measures if the US does not give in

A senior State Department official said the Russians submitted their response in Moscow to US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan.

Positive signs from Moscow cooled the crisis earlier in the week, but the heat turned up again on Thursday, when Western powers said Russia has more than 150,000 troops massed outside Ukraine’s borders.

“We have seen the opposite of some of the statements. We have seen a surge in troops in the last 48 hours, up to 7,000,” British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said before a meeting of the Western military alliance in Brussels on Thursday.

British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey even called Russia’s claim to withdraw troops “disinformation.” Russia accuses the West of the same.

Russia has “enough troops, enough capabilities to launch a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine with little or no warning time,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. “The fact that you’re putting a battle tank on a train and moving it in some direction doesn’t prove a troop withdrawal.”

While no attack materialized on Wednesday as some feared, Western officials say the threat of invasion remains high and have vowed to counter it.

Moscow said several times this week that some of its forces were withdrawing to bases, but offered no details that would allow an independent assessment, and Western leaders immediately cast doubt on those claims. On Thursday, NATO allies again denied the Russian claims and warned that they were prepared to respond to any aggression.

“The consequences of this massive buildup — almost 60% of Russia’s ground combat forces on a sovereign nation’s border — will have the opposite effect,” Wallace said.

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“We take it very seriously,” added the British minister. “And we are going to confront the threat that is being posed.”

NATO has already deployed soldiers and military equipment to Eastern Europe in a show of determination that seeks to deter any Russian aggression and underlines its intention to defend its members in the region in the unlikely event that they become targets.

The United States has begun deploying 5,000 troops to Poland and Romania, with 8,500 more on standby. Britain sent hundreds of troops to Poland, offering more warships and planes, as well as doubling its Estonian detachment. Germany, the Netherlands and Norway sent more troops to Lithuania, while Denmark and Spain mobilized planes to control the Baltic Sea region.

As Ukraine braces for a possible invasion, tensions have spiked in the country’s troubled east, known as Donbas, where Russian-backed separatists have been battling Kiev’s troops since 2014.

Separatist authorities in the Luhansk region denounced an increase in Ukrainian shelling along the tense line of contact, an action they called “large-scale provocation.” Separatist official Rodion Miroshnik claimed they returned fire.

Ukraine denied the allegation, saying the separatists bombed its forces, but they did not respond. An observer mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is expected to give its assessment of the situation later in the day.

Many in the West fear that tensions in the east could be used as a pretext for Russia to cross the border, although there was no indication that the latest clashes were more serious than those that normally occur. Moscow, for its part, expressed concern that the Ukrainian forces, encouraged by the West, could launch an attack to regain control of the rebel areas, something that Kiev denies.

Russia denies planning an invasion but says it must be able to protect its security interests. She does not want the West to include Ukraine or other former Soviet republics in NATO, and wants the alliance to stop deploying weapons near Russian borders and withdraw its forces from Eastern Europe. The United States and its allies have rejected these demands, but have offered to open a dialogue with Moscow on ways to strengthen security in Europe.

SEE ALSO: What is happening between Russia and Ukraine?: The keys to understanding the conflict

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Thursday that some NATO members are not in favor of his joining.

“Not all members of the alliance want Ukraine in NATO,” he said without naming names. “It is not up to the Ukrainian people to decide when we will be there, because it is not only up to us, 30 countries must come to a consensus on that decision.”

For its part, Maxar Technologies, a commercial satellite imaging company that has been monitoring the movements of Russian soldiers, reported a continued increase in military activity near Ukraine, including a new bridge and a new field hospital in Belarus. It also reported that some forces left an airfield in the country, an ally of the Kremlin, but it was not clear what their fate was.

Source: Gestion

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