Kremlin rejects ‘unfounded accusations,’ says it takes time to wind down exercises
Russia on Thursday accused the U.S. and NATO of making “unfounded accusations” after Western officials said Moscow has made no effort to withdraw its forces from near the Ukrainian border, as promised earlier this week.
The Kremlin claimed it had a clear timetable for units to return to their permanent bases after it completes military exercises and that such a wind down takes time, spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told a reporters, as reported by Reuters.
“It’s clear the grouping for the [military] exercises was built up over many weeks, and it is of course impossible to withdraw it in a single day. They can’t just take off and fly away . . . it takes time,” Peskov said. “As always unfounded accusations.”
Russia on Tuesday said that it would withdraw a portion of the more than 150,000 troops it has massed near Ukraine’s border, and that it was willing to engage in diplomacy, a move to ease fears of a Kremlin invasion of Ukraine.
But Western officials have said they’ve seen no such actions and instead witnessed additional troops being sent to the border.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said earlier Thursday that the steps Russia has taken near the border do not suggest that it is “ready to pack up and go home.”
In an adjacent press conference, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance also had seen “no sign of withdrawal or de-escalation so far” from Moscow.
Moscow has maintained it never planned to invade Ukraine and has said the huge number of the troops at the Ukrainian border in both Russia and Belarus was to hold military exercises and to bolster against provocations from NATO.
But U.S. and alliance officials have warned Russia may stage a provocation in eastern Ukraine as an excuse for a large-scale invasion, much like when it invaded and annexed the Crimea Peninsula in 2014.