NATO says Russia still adding troops to Ukraine build-up

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg appeared unconvinced the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine had lessoned, saying 'what we see is that they have increased the number of troops'.

 NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks ahead of a NATO Defence Ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium, February 16, 2022.  (photo credit: JOHANNA GERON/REUTERS)
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks ahead of a NATO Defence Ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium, February 16, 2022.
(photo credit: JOHANNA GERON/REUTERS)

NATO accused Russia on Wednesday of sending more troops to a massive military build-up around Ukraine, even as Moscow said that it was withdrawing forces and was open to diplomacy.

At the start of two days of talks among NATO defense ministers, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg appeared unconvinced the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine had lessoned, and voiced guarded hopes for diplomacy.

"We have not seen any withdrawal of Russian forces. And of course, that contradicts the message of diplomatic efforts," Soltenberg said. "What we see is that they have increased the number of troops and more troops are on their way. So, so far, no de-escalation."

The configuration of Russia's armed forces in the west of the country will return to normal in three to four weeks, TASS news agency cited Russia's ambassador to Ireland as saying on Wednesday.

Russian armed forces have started returning to permanent military bases after loading tanks and other military vehicles onto railway wagons, the western military district said on Wednesday.

Russia's defense ministry published video on Wednesday that it said showed a column of tanks and military vehicles leaving annexed Crimea across a railway bridge after drills, adding that some troops would also return to their permanent bases.

 A satellite image shows a new military deployment and armoured vehicles in Slavne, Crimea February 9, 2022.  (credit: MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS) A satellite image shows a new military deployment and armoured vehicles in Slavne, Crimea February 9, 2022. (credit: MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Moscow announced a partial pullback of forces from near Ukraine on Tuesday. The move was met with skepticism, however, and US President Joe Biden said that more than 150,000 Russian troops were still amassed near Ukraine's borders.

Russia wants NATO to publicly state it will not admit Ukraine into the military alliance, RIA news agency cited Vienna-based Russian diplomat Konstantin Gavrilov as saying on Wednesday.

World powers are engaged in one of the deepest crises in East-West relations for decades, jostling over post-Cold War influence and energy supplies as Moscow wants to stop the former Soviet neighbor ever joining the NATO military alliance.

On Wednesday morning, video footage showed what the defense ministry said were tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and self-propelled artillery units leaving the Crimean peninsula that Moscow seized from Kyiv in 2014.

"Combat equipment and military personnel will be delivered by military trains to the units' permanent deployment points," the defense ministry said. "Upon arrival, the equipment will be serviced and prepared for carrying out the next phase of combat training."

The video, published by the RIA news agency, showed dozens of military vehicles crossing the bridge at night.

A separate convoy of service vehicles drove across a different bridge, the TASS news agency cited the military as saying.