All signs point to invasion

The conflict between Ukraine and Russia is inching closer to an invasion. NATO alleges that Russia has added as many as 7,000 troops near the Russia-Ukraine border.


World News

February 17, 2022 - 9:18 AM

The Ukrainian flag flies over the Verchovna Rada, the Ukrainian Parliament, on Oct. 2, 2019 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Ukrainian officials said a distributed denial-of-service cyberattack began Tuesday and continued into Wednesday. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images/TNS)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — NATO allies accused Russia of misleading the world with “disinformation” by saying it was returning some troops to bases, charging that Moscow has instead added as many as 7,000 more troops near its tense border with Ukraine.

With Western fears high that Russia is planning to invade, tensions also spiked today along the line that separates Ukrainian forces from Russia-backed separatists in the country’s east, with the parties accusing each other of intensive shelling.

Asked about Moscow’s troop buildup, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the U.S. and its NATO partners “will closely match Russian words to Russian deeds, what they say to what they actually do.”

“We’ve seen some of those troops inch closer to that border. We see them fly in more combat and support aircraft,” he said at NATO headquarters in Brussels. “We see them sharpen their readiness in the Black Sea. We even see them stocking up their blood supplies. You don’t do these sort of things for no reason, and you certainly don’t do them if you’re getting ready to pack up and go home.”

A senior U.S. official said today that Russia has delivered its response to American and NATO proposals about Ukraine and European security.

The Kremlin’s response was given to the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, John Sullivan. No details about the letter were immediately released.

“We can confirm that we have received a response from the Russian Federation,” the U.S. official told The Associated Press.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was concerned “that Russia is trying to stage a pretext for an armed attack against Ukraine.”

After a handful of positive signals from Russia that lowered the temperature in the crisis earlier in the week, the pendulum appeared to swing in the opposite direction again. With an estimated 150,000-plus troops massed near Ukraine, the Kremlin offered to keep pursuing diplomatic solutions — an overture the NATO chief welcomed, even as he and others warned that the U.S.-led alliance has seen no sign of the military withdrawal that Moscow announced.

“We have seen the opposite of some of the statements. We have seen an increase of troops over the last 48 hours, up to 7,000,” said British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace ahead of a meeting Thursday of the western alliance in Brussels.

That squared with what a U.S. administration official said a day earlier. The top EU official said similar.

British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey even called Russia’s claim to be withdrawing troops “disinformation.” Russia accuses the West of the same.

Russia has “enough troops, enough capabilities, to launch a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine with very little or no warning time,” Stoltenberg said. “The fact that you’re putting a battle tank on a train and moving it in some direction doesn’t prove a withdrawal of troops.”

While the West warned the threat of invasion remains high, no attack materialized Wednesday, as some had feared.

Moscow said several times this week that some forces are pulling back to their bases, but it gave virtually no details that would allow for an independent assessment of the scope and direction of the troop movement, and Western leaders quickly cast doubt on those statements. NATO allies knocked down the Russian assertions again Thursday, warning that they are ready to counter any aggression.