NATO and Ukraine’s leaders have expressed cautious optimism at the withdrawal of Russian troops at the Ukrainian border, some of whom are returning to their stations elsewhere in Russia.
Jens Stoltenberg, the chief executive of NATO, cited Russia’s actions as a sign of “cautious optimism” following weeks of military buildup along the Russia-Ukraine border, as well as an amassing of forces in Belarus.
“There are signs from Moscow that diplomacy should continue. This gives grounds for cautious optimism. But so far we have not seen any sign of de-escalation on the ground from the Russian side,” Stoltenberg said Tuesday morning.
Ukraine defence minister Dmytro Kuleba said that the news of the Russian withdrawal needed to be more substantive.
“We have a rule: don’t believe what you hear, believe what you see. When we see a withdrawal, we will believe in a de-escalation,” he said.
Russian state media reported Tuesday that top diplomats from both Russia and the United States are currently negotiating over the phone following the apparent withdrawal of Russian troops.
The Wall Street Journal announced Tuesday that the pullback of military forces still leaves around 120,000 Russian troops in the region.
“Russia’s Defense Ministry said it had pulled back some troops from near Ukraine while noting that large-scale military maneuvers were continuing and Western officials warned that combat units were moving into forward positions,” the WSJ reported.
“The announced pullback scales down a total force that is still estimated to number more than 120,000 and came amid a new round of shuttle diplomacy aimed at defusing the crisis. Moscow has warned of unspecified consequences if the U.S. and its allies reject its security demands,” the report added.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the exercises Russia is performing along the border are routine and that troops always return to their permanent bases.
“We have always said that after the exercises are over… troops would return to their permanent bases. There’s nothing new here. This is a usual process,” he said.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has also travelled to Moscow to negotiate with his Russian counterparts. His trip to Russia follows his visit to Kyiv on Monday to negotiate a resolution to the ongoing tensions.
Earlier reports on Monday suggested that Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky expressed his belief that Ukraine expected to be attacked by Russia this week, however his remarks were later clarified as “ironic” due to his disbelief in such a scenario ever coming to pass in the immediate future.