The United States did not verify the withdrawal of Russian troops near Ukraine |

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday he welcomes a security dialogue with the West, and his military said it had withdrawn some of its troops near Ukraine. But US President Joe Biden said the US had not verified Russia’s claim and an invasion was still a distinct possibility.

Putin has said he does not want war and will rely on negotiations in his efforts to eliminate any chance that Ukraine could ever join NATO. At the same time, he did not commit to a full troop withdrawal, saying Russia’s next moves in the stalemate will depend on how the situation develops.

In remarks at the White House, Biden promised the United States would continue to give diplomacy “every chance” to prevent a Russian invasion, but he struck a skeptical tone about Moscow’s intentions. Biden also insisted that the United States and its allies would not “sacrifice basic principles” regarding Ukraine’s sovereignty.

“Two paths are still open,” Biden said. “But let there be no doubt: if Russia makes this breach by invading Ukraine, responsible nations around the world will not hesitate to react. If we do not defend freedom where it is threatened today today, we will surely pay a higher price tomorrow.

The movement of Russian military vehicles is reported on social networks. (CNN/Michael1Sheldon/YouTube/Putnik Pitliviy/@RALee85/TikTok/@verdant_32)

Putin’s overtures calmed global markets which were on edge amid the worst East-West tensions in decades. Washington and its European allies remained cautious, saying they wanted to see evidence of a Russian pushback. Biden said 150,000 Russian troops are now massed near Ukraine and in Belarus, an increase from an earlier US estimate of 130,000 troops.

Russia’s claim that it withdrew its troops “would be good, but we haven’t verified that yet,” Biden said. “Indeed, our analysts indicate that they remain very much in a threat position.”

The United States and NATO, which continue to warn that Russia could invade at any moment, have sent troops and military supplies to bolster alliance members in Eastern Europe. Russia has denied having such plans. He wants the West to keep Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations out of the alliance, stop weapons deployments near Russia’s borders and roll back Eastern European forces.

The United States and its allies have flatly rejected these demands, but have offered to engage in talks with Russia on ways to strengthen security in Europe.

The “spectacular acceleration” of the reinforcement of Russian forces leads to the closure of the American embassy in Kiev. (CNN, RUSSIA 24, POOL)

Speaking after meeting German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Putin said the West had agreed to discuss a ban on the deployment of missiles in Europe, restrictions on military exercises and other confidence-building measures – questions that Moscow had put on the table years ago.

He said Russia was ready to discuss “some of these elements”, but added that it would only do so in combination “with the main issues which are of paramount importance to us”.

When asked if there could be a war in Europe, Putin said that Russia did not want it, but that Ukraine’s bid for NATO membership posed a major threat to the security of his country.

While Scholz reiterated that NATO’s eastward expansion “is not on the agenda – everyone knows that very well”, Putin retorted that Moscow would not be reassured by such insurance.

“They tell us it won’t happen tomorrow,” Putin said. “Well, when will that happen? Two days later? What does this change for us in historical perspective? Nothing.”

Scholz also said diplomatic options are “far from exhausted”, and he hailed the announcement of a troop withdrawal as a “good signal”, adding: “We hope others will follow”.

More than 100,000 Russian troops are near the Ukrainian border, according to US estimates. (CNN, POOL, ABC “THIS WEEK”, @WHITEHOUSE, THE WHITE HOUSE, @OLEKSIIREZNIKOV)

The Russian Ministry of Defense released images of tanks and howitzers driving on railway platforms and other tanks driving on snowy fields. He did not reveal where or when the footage was taken, or where the vehicles were heading, other than “to permanent deployment locations”.

Biden acknowledged the likelihood that sanctions imposed on Russia in retaliation for an invasion would have a significant impact on the US economy, including possible price hikes and disruption of the country’s energy supply.

“The American people understand that standing up for democracy and freedom is never free,” Biden said. “I won’t pretend it will be painless.”

He said the administration is trying to anticipate supply issues by working with power producers and shippers on contingency plans. The president said he would work with Congress on “additional unspecified measures to protect consumers and address the impact of pump prices.”

Russian forces continue to threaten Ukraine along the eastern border and from the Black Sea Crimean peninsula that Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014, the year it also supported a separatist insurgency in the east of the country. Other Russian troops threaten Ukraine in Belarus, where they have been deployed for large-scale joint exercises.

Ukraine has expressed skepticism about Russia’s statements regarding a withdrawal.

“We will not believe when we hear, we will believe when we see. When we see the troops withdrawing, we will believe in de-escalation,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that “so far we have seen … no signs of a reduction in the Russian military presence on Ukraine’s borders,” adding that the alliance wants to see a “significant and lasting withdrawal” of forces, troops and heavy equipment.

Meanwhile, a series of cyberattacks on Tuesday took down the websites of the Ukrainian military, defense ministry and major banks. There was no indication that relatively low-level denial-of-service attacks could be a smokescreen for more serious cyber harm. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the United States has yet to determine who was behind the attacks.

Few Russians expect a war, after the Kremlin rejected Western warnings calling them “hysteria” and “absurdity”.

In a village in the Russian region of Belgorod, about 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the Ukrainian border, residents continued to live as usual, even as more and more military personnel passed through the streets of the village.

“We are friends with Ukraine,” villager Lyudmila Nechvolod said. “We are really on the border, we really have relatives here and there, everyone has someone there (on the Ukrainian side). Nobody wants war.

Diplomatic efforts continued on Tuesday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had a call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Biden spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday about the evolving crisis.

Meanwhile, Russian lawmakers have urged Putin to recognize rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine as independent states. The State Duma, Russia’s lower house, voted to submit an appeal to Putin to that effect.

Putin said the request reflects the sympathy of the Russian public for the suffering of those trapped in the conflict in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 14,000 people since 2014. He noted, however, that Russia continues to believe that a 2015 peace agreement brokered by France and Germany should serve as the main vehicle for resolving the separatist conflict.

Putin’s statement indicated he was not inclined to back parliament’s proposal that would effectively invalidate the 2015 deal, which marked a major diplomatic coup for Moscow and asked Kyiv to offer a broad autonomy to the separatist territories. It has been felt by many in Ukraine and its implementation has stalled.

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Karmanau reported from Kiev, Ukraine and Madhani from Washington. Dasha Litvinova in Moscow, Angela Charlton in Paris, Lorne Cook in Brussels, Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Geir Moulson in Berlin, Jill Lawless in London, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Robert Burns, Matthew Lee and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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