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NATO chief contradicts Russia withdrawal claims, says no proof of pulling back

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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday contradicted Moscow’s claims that it was pulling troops back from the Ukrainian border and said he has seen no proof of any withdrawal efforts.

“We have not seen any withdrawal of Russian forces. That contradicts the message of real diplomatic efforts,” Stoltenberg told reporters.  “They have increased the number of troops and more troops are on their way. So far, there is no de-escalation.”

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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks to the press ahead of a meeting of NATO Foreign Affairs Ministers.
(AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)

The secretary-general’s comments come after Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed reporting Tuesday that Moscow would begin “the partial withdrawal of troops” from “training” areas near Ukraine.

The U.S. and NATO have said they are cautiously optimistic following the Kremlin’s statements, but Stoltenberg warned Wednesday that Russia is still capable of launching a “full-fledged invasion of Ukraine with no warning time.”

Russia prompted immense cause for concern over the last few months as it has amassed roughly 150,000 troops along its southwest border and deployed troops into allied Belarus.

Despite Russia’s repeated claim that it has no intention of invading Ukraine, Western intelligence remains concerned it could be looking to launch an attack in the immediate future. 

Reporters questioned images released by the Kremlin Tuesday that alleged it was moving troops from the Ukrainian border, but the NATO head said this tactic was nothing new for Russia.

In this photo taken from video provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, Russian army tanks are loaded onto railway platforms to move back to their permanent base after drills in Russia. 

In this photo taken from video provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, Russian army tanks are loaded onto railway platforms to move back to their permanent base after drills in Russia. 
(Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

“We are closely monitoring and following what they’re doing,” Stoltenberg said. “They have always moved forces back and forth. So just that we see movement of forces…doesn’t confirm a real withdrawal.”

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Russia laid out a litany of demands from NATO, including restrictions on NATO membership and missile placements in the region.

The U.S and NATO provided a written response to Moscow’s demands in late January, but the Kremlin has yet to respond. 

Biden on Tuesday said the 30-member alliance has made several proposals to address Russia’s security concerns, such as “new arms control measures, new transparency measures, new strategic stability measures.”

An instructor trains members of Ukraine's Territorial Defense Forces, volunteer military units of the Armed Forces, in a city park in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. Dozens of civilians have been joining Ukraine's army reserves in recent weeks amid fears about Russian invasion.

An instructor trains members of Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces, volunteer military units of the Armed Forces, in a city park in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. Dozens of civilians have been joining Ukraine’s army reserves in recent weeks amid fears about Russian invasion.
(AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

But Stoltenberg reiterated NATO’s hard-line stance when it comes to barring Ukraine from becoming an alliance member. 

“Russia is not deciding who is going to be a member of NATO or not,” he told reporters. 

Both the U.S. and NATO continue to urge Russia to engage in diplomatic talks.