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Ukraine crisis: Scholz, Biden want 'real steps' from Russia

February 16, 2022

The German chancellor and US president spoke at length in a phone call, before releasing a statement. Antony Blinken remains skeptical over the Kremlin's claim that it has withdrawn forces from near the Ukraine border.

Joe Biden and Olaf Scholz
Scholz and Biden met earlier this monthImage: Alex Brandon/AP Photo/picture alliance

US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz urged Russia to defuse tensions near its border with Ukraine following a telephone call between the two leaders on Wednesday.

Biden and Scholz maintain the situation in Ukraine is "extremely serious" as there is still a risk of Russian military aggression, German government spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit said on Wednesday.

The pair said that no significant withdrawal of Russian troops from the Ukrainian border had been observed.

Earlier, Russia's defense ministry said its forces were pulling back after exercises near Ukraine. It also published a video that it said showed tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and self-propelled artillery units leaving Crimea.

Western officials have disputed Russia's claims around withdrawal, and NATO commanders are drawing up plans for new combat units that diplomats said could be deployed in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia.

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What else did Scholz and Biden say?

"Russia must take real steps toward de-escalation," they said, according to a statement issued by the German chancellery.

Both leaders welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin's statement that diplomatic efforts should continue, Hebestreit said.

The two leaders agreed it was important to implement the Minsk peace agreements and make progress in Normandy format talks between Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France.

Biden and Scholz emphasized the "importance of continued transatlantic coordination" during the Wednesday phone call, the White House said. They also discussed reinforcing NATO's eastern flank.

Being tested by Russia, how is NATO holding up?

Doubts around Russian withdrawal

The United States warned that Russia's military build-up near the Ukrainian border is continuing.

"There's what Russia says. And then there's what Russia does. And we haven't seen any pullback of its forces," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an interview for American broadcaster MSNBC.

"We continue to see critical units moving toward the border, not away from the border," he added.

Meanwhile, Estonian intelligence has reported around 10 battle groups of troops moving towards the Ukrainian border. Estonian intelligence official Mikk Marran said there are already around 170,000 soldiers deployed there.

An attack on Ukraine would include missile bombardment and the occupation of "key terrain," Marran added.

"If Russia is successful in Ukraine, it would encourage it to increase pressure on the Baltics in the coming years," Marran said.

"The threat of war has become main policy tool for Putin."

German lieutenant says it is time to 'act like adults again'

Speaking to DW, German lawmaker and army lieutenant Falko Drossmann described the posturing around Ukraine as a "horrible game."

Berlin was calling on Russia to "put the guns away and then we can talk about what you want," he said.

"And I think in our opinion, it's time now to retreat the troops and well, you know, to act like adults again."

He also said that Germany was taking Russia's concerns seriously while also being "strongly" on the side of Ukraine and the US.

"More than one billion euros was spent into Ukraine, to help the Ukrainians build up their state," he said.

sdi/jsi (AFP, Reuters, dpa)