Ukraine latest: Biden warns Russian attack still possible | News | DW | 15.02.2022

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Ukraine latest: Biden warns Russian attack still possible

The President has said the US will "respond decisively" in the event of an attack amid reports Russia has said some of its forces will return from the Ukraine border to permanent deployment sites. DW has the latest.

Joe Biden speaks at a podium

Biden said the US and its allies are ready to act in the event of a Russian invasion

US President Joe Biden on Tuesday said that a Russian attack on Ukraine remains possible, and that the US has yet to verify Moscow's claims that troops had been moved away from the Ukraine border. 

"We are ready to respond decisively to a Russian attack on Ukraine, which remains very much a possibility," Biden said in nationally televised remarks.

He added that diplomacy should have "every chance to succeed." 

"To the citizens of Russia: you are not our enemy, and I don’t believe you want a bloody, destructive war against Ukraine," Biden said.

The president added the US and its NATO allies are prepared for whatever happens and that Russia will pay a steep economic price if Moscow launches an invasion.

Russia claims troop pullback

Russia's Defense Ministry said on Tuesday that some of the soldiers taking part in the military drills close to the Ukrainian border were returning to their bases after completing their exercises. At the same time, they noted that "large-scale measures for the operational training of troops and forces" were still in progress.

The Kremlin also confirmed the development but stressed it will continue to conduct drills on Russia's territory as it sees fit.

"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," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Russia's announcement marks a slight shift in tone, along with comments from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that indicated a willingness to reduce tensions and continue talks.

Interfax cited a district commander saying some units were leaving Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula occupied by Russia since 2014, and returning to their bases in Dagestan and North Ossetia.

"As combat training measures are coming to a close, the troops, as always, will conduct ... marches to their permanent garrisons," said Igor Konashenkov, the chief spokesperson for the Defense Ministry.

"Units of the Southern and Western Military Districts that have accomplished their tasks have already begun loading personnel and equipment on railway and auto transport means and will today begin heading to their military garrisons," he said.

Watch video 05:03

'Russia had years to prepare for this escalation'

US Ambassador to NATO tells DW: 'No evidence of de-escalation'

US Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith told DW's Alexandra von Nahmen in an exclusive interview that the US and NATO are prepared to sit down and engage in a dialogue, and hopefully de-escalate the situation. "But right now, we don't have any evidence that that's occurring," Smith said. 

"We'll want to step back and spend some time verifying that claim," she added. 

The ambassador referred back to December when Russia "made a similar claim" but "the facts on the ground didn't prove that to be true."  

Smith also indicated the US "will take the time we need" to assess the situation.

"We remain concerned about the build-up of Russian troops around Ukraine's border. We do believe that at this time, Russia possesses all that it needs to invade Ukraine."

The ambassador underscored the fact that the Biden administration also made "very clear to Moscow" in recent days that the "door to dialogue is wide open."

Asked about the NATO unity and Germany's role when it comes to Russia, Smith said "In this moment, as we all think about Russian aggression and what Russia is doing to destabilize European security more broadly, there's no question, in my mind, that we are united as an alliance."

Watch video 05:39

US ambassador to NATO: No evidence Russia is de-escalating

What have other countries said? 

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss eyed the news of deescalation warily, saying that only a full-scale departure of Russian troops from the Ukrainian border would signify Moscow's commitment to not invade its neighbor.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said that a withdrawal of Russian troops would be "excellent news" if confirmed, but was cautious about its legitimacy. She was speaking from Madrid where she held talks with her Spanish counterpart.

"Every real step of deescalation would be a reason for hope," she said. "For now, there are only announcements and these must now be followed by action," she added. 

Ukraine was more skeptical. "Russia constantly makes various statements,'' the country's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.

Watch video 00:38

Chancellor Scholz: We cannot overestimate this threat

"That's why we have the rule: We won't believe when we hear, we'll believe when we see. When we see troops pulling out, we'll believe in deescalation," he added.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels that the alliance has "not seen any signs of reduced Russian military presence on the borders of Ukraine. But we will continue to monitor and to follow closely what Russia is doing."

He added the reports were grounds for "cautious optimism."

More than 100,000 troops are stationed in regions along Ukraine's eastern border, including in Belarus where troops are carrying out joint military exercises until February 20. The Russian navy is also involved in drills in the Black Sea.

Later Tuesday, Ukrainian media reports suggested the country's army, ministry of defense, and two banks had come under a cyberattack. 

Here are some more of the latest developments:

Russia's EU ambassador says no attack 'in the coming month'

Russia's ambassador to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, has said that Russia will not attack Ukraine in the coming month.

The New York Times cited a US intelligence source as saying that Moscow was discussing this Wednesday (February 16) as a date for military action in Ukraine, which Chizhov denied in remarks published in German newspaper Die Welt.

World Bank President has 'grave concerns' over tensions

The president of the World Bank Group says he has "grave concerns" over the current tensions between Russia and Ukraine. David Malpass told DW Business the prospect of a Russian invasion of Ukraine came at a time of financial "fragility in quite a few parts of the world" and such tensions are "an obstacle to development."

Malpass also noted the potential economic risks to Russia. He said Russia's economy "has had lots of financial challenges in recent years and those continue, so this is not good for anyone and I will be glad if the tensions can be reduced."

The World Bank Group president added that the organization was continuing its operations in Ukraine.

Watch video 03:39

Hidden debt a concern for developing nations

Wall Street shows gains

Wall Street ended higher on Tuesday, due to signs of de-escalating tensions along the border between Russia and Ukraine.

The rally was prompted by news that Russia said it had withdrawn some troops from the Ukrainian border.

All three major indexes showed solid advances on Tuesday. The Nasdaq showed the largest advance, having gained 2.5%.

Meanwhile, US benchmark crude oil prices dropped by 3.5%. Oil prices have been volatile amid concerns over a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine.

German chancellor in Moscow for talks

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was in Moscow on Tuesday for his first face-to-face talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a further attempt to avoid a military conflict.

Following the talks, Putin said that Moscow does "not want war in Europe," adding that they were "willing to continue the discussion process."

Scholz said that Ukrainian sovereignty "is not to be negotiated."

The two leaders also discussed their economic ties, including Germany's reliance on Russian gas.

Scholz is the most recent leader to meet Putin in Moscow, following visits by French President Emmanuel Macron, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.

Watch video 02:21

Scholz to meet Putin for talks on Ukraine crisis

US and Russian top diplomats speak on the phone

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, with the Russian diplomat calling for an end to "aggressive rhetoric" from Washington. 

The ministry said Lavrov called for "pragmatic dialogue over the entire range of issues raised by Russia."

Lavrov also stressed that it was necessary to continue "joint work". 

The US State Department said Blinken had told Lavrov that the US has ongoing concerns about Russia's capability to launch an invasion of Ukraine, and said the US needs to see "verifiable, credible, meaningful de-escalation."

The call comes a day after the US State Department moved its Ukrainian embassy from Kyiv to the western city of Lviv. 

Norway sends more NATO soldiers to Lithuania

Norway said on Tuesday that it will send an extra "50 to 60 soldiers" to Lithuania as part of its contribution to NATO forces in the country. They will join the 140 Norwegian troops already there under German command.

"The massive Russian build-up around Ukraine, and the demands on the United States and Europe, have changed the security situation in Europe," Defense Minister Odd Roger Enoksen said in a statement.

"We want to contribute to a strengthened allied presence and security in the Baltics to show solidarity with our allies," he added.

Norway will host some 35,000 troops from 28 — mostly NATO — countries in March as part of military exercises in the Arctic to practice defending against an attack in cold weather conditions.

The Russian navy is also planning military exercises in the Arctic in the coming weeks.

Watch video 19:58

Ischinger: Capabilities for full-scale war exist

Japan in contact with EU and Kyiv

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday. The two agreed to pursue diplomatic efforts to avoid a military conflict.

Kishida also reiterated the possibility of imposing sanctions against Russia should it invade Ukraine, echoing an earlier statement by Japan's Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi.

The Japanese prime minister held a phone conversation with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen over Tokyo's "grave concern" regarding a possible Russian invasion earlier on Tuesday.

Japan's Defense Ministry has also warned of increased Russian naval presence in the Sea of Japan and the southern region of the Sea of Okhotsk, suggesting that Russia intends "to show off the capability to operate in the East and West, along with the Russian military's recent movement around Ukraine."

Moscow interested in further talks with OSCE

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is interested in continuing talks with Russia to avoid further crises, such as the one in Ukraine, in the future.

"We would like to create an informal platform for open political discussion between OSCE nations, which would allow for the discussion of mechanisms for stopping crises like the present one," said Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau who is serving as the chairman of the OSCE.

Rau's Russian counterpart Lavrov called the proposal "interesting" and said "We are already committed to very close cooperation with the OSCE chairmanship."

However, Lavrov added that at the current time, Moscow's focus is on progressing talks with the US and NATO, without which there can be no progress with the OSCE.

Rau was upbeat nevertheless, saying after the talks that "the gap between our positions… has the chance to be narrowed."

sdi, ab/dj,wmr, jsi (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP, EFE)

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