The United States on Wednesday dismissed reports that Russia was withdrawing troops from its border with Ukraine, instead accusing Moscow of sending as many as 7,000 more soldiers.
Russia’s defence ministry published a video on Thursday that it said showed troops and military equipment from its western military district’s tank army returning to their permanent deployment bases after drills, according to FRANCE24 with AFP.
The ministry said tanks and armoured vehicles would travel around 1,000 km (620 miles) by rail, Reuters reports.
Western countries warned on Wednesday there was a growing Russian military presence at Ukraine’s borders, contradicting Moscow’s insistence of a pullback.
Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine accused Kyiv government forces on Thursday of using mortars to attack their territory, in violation of agreements aimed at ending the conflict, the RIA news agency said.
Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops close to Ukraine’s borders while demanding that NATO pledge not to accept Kyiv as a member. The West has threatened Moscow with new sanctions if it attacks Ukraine; Russia denies planning any attacks.
Sporadic shooting has been reported in the rebel-held regions from both sides in recent years. But an escalation in the years-long conflict with Donbass separatists could fuel tension between Russia and the West.
According the RIA report, representatives of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic said Ukrainian forces used mortars, grenade launchers and a machine gun on Thursday.
“Armed forces of Ukraine have rudely violated the ceasefire regime, using heavy weapons, which, according to the Minsk agreements, should be withdrawn,” said representatives of Luhansk region in the Ukrainian-Russian ceasefire control group cited by Interfax news agency.
US Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the sidelines of the annual Munich Security Conference this week, a senior White House official said Wednesday.
The meeting, scheduled for Saturday, will be “a real opportunity to underscore our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the official said.
Russia has increased its presence on the border with Ukraine by “as many as 7,000 troops,” some of whom arrived Wednesday, said a senior White House official, without providing evidence. The official slammed Moscow’s announcement of a withdrawal as “false,” adding, “We continue to receive indications they could launch a false pretext at any moment to justify an invasion.”
The official, who requested anonymity, added that while Moscow has said it wants to reach a diplomatic solution, its actions “indicate otherwise.”
Earlier Wednesday, the United States and NATO joined Ukraine in saying there was no sign of Russian troops withdrawing after military movements in occupied Crimea fueled reports that the crisis could be abating.